Thursday, December 1, 2016

How Climate Change elected Donald Trump

Morality is not a set of abstract rules handed down from on high, or intuited from the structure of the universe. It is a utility function that maximizes genetic fitness. We evolved morality as a response to the evolutionary pressures of social living. This means that as the environment changes, so do our intuitions of morality.

In other words, what people perceive to be moral depends on what what they perceive to benefit their chance of passing on their genes.

Climate change is an undeniable fact; sea levels will rise, and billions of people will be displaced. This is properly terrifying. Humans respond to fear by becoming more authoritarian. Donald Trump won on one and only one policy: anti-immigration. Racism and sexism were relevant, but only as expressions of this fear. Trump’s true allure was his authoritarianism, his promise to close the borders, and his sociopathy.

Because those are the qualities required to close the gates to a horde of refugees. To stand back and watch a billion people drown requires it. They voted for the most horrible person they could find, because they want him to do something horrible.

Around the world, racism, nativism, and tribalism are on the rise. People are girding themselves for the battle to come. Their real concern is not that refugees are brown or Muslim; those are useful categories but not necessary. It is their mere status as refugees that is frightening.

Climate change is mostly caused by rich nations; its pain will be borne most heavily by poor nations. We have already demonstrated that we will not give up our luxuries for their dying; how much less likely are we to suffer the real and measurable privation that would come with both reducing climate change and caring for the people it displaces.

Hillary Clinton (and for that matter, Bernie Sanders) represented inclusiveness. Their leadership would have steered the lifeboat closer, to rescue as many people as possible, even at the risk of capsizing. Trump represents the opposite: the boats that left the Titanic early, only half-full.

To leave the sinking ship in an orderly fashion saves the most lives, but it also requires trust. The Republicans dedicated the last thirty years to destroying trust in government and largely succeeded. Now we unpack the dog-whistles and see that Clinton was not “trustworthy,” because Clinton could not be trusted to row away from the drowning innocents.

Despite all their talk of Christian faith and climate skepticism, their actions reveal their fear. Not just buying guns, but hardening hearts, quelling empathy, embracing strength, celebrating savagery.

It is, in their perception, the best way to survive the coming flood.


  1. It's fear in general. Fear of lack of jobs due to automation, fear the world is changing and the realization we really can't do much about that. And if you say somethings loud enough and long enough people will start to listen because they want to believe someone has an answer. Even if the answer is really just a bunch of lies.

  2. I agree completely. But the USA has always had a strain of racism baked in, and now that infection is running rampant.