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Friday, October 24, 2008

Yes, the US elections matter

A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised by a comment my sister made, she said she was sick of constantly hearing about the US elections, and couldn't understand why everyone was so obsessed with it. As pointed out in one of the recent US presidential debates, international perception of America and Americans took a serious dive over the last 8 years. South Africa is no exception, and the typical opinion of South Africans about Americans is hardly positive. I believe that as a result many South Africans (my sister included) have become largely apathetic to what happens in The States. We are so tired of having American culture shoved down our throats and seeing the American government seemingly shoving around 'lesser' countries in the foreign dealings that we seem to be averse to hearing anything more about them.

The problem is, as much as we hate it, what happens in America really does have an effect on us down on Africa's southern tip. With US consumption as high as it is (despite their relatively small population considering the country's total land mass) there isn't a country in the world that doesn't depend on exports paid for in US dollars. Being such a massive consumer of every resource imaginable, the US also has the means to muscle through deals that affect smaller countries' buying and selling power in the world markets.

Most importantly in my opinion though, the US is seen as a world policy leader by many of the major developing countries. World leaders and citizens are finally waking up to the fact that climate change is a reality, that it is almost certainly caused by human activities and similarly that human activity can be changed to counteract it.

The policy choices made by the next American leadership will not only shape how that country reacts to the threat of climate change, but will influence the behaviour of developing giants India and China. Both of these countries are immensely populous and are only now going through a stage of development America and Europe had the privilege of experiencing while their populations were small enough to not massively impact the rest of the world. Asking these nations to hamper their development while America behaves responsibly to the environment will be difficult, doing so while the US continues to ignore the global consequences of it's people's wasteful lifestyles will be impossible.

I have no doubt that this is the most important election Americans have voted in for at least three decades. The economic and political instability that will forever be George W. Bush's legacy will take radical new policies to repair, and the seriously worrying state of our planet will require leadership willing to make very uncomfortable choices focused on the medium and long term instead of short term re-election goals.


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