‘Tis The Season-For Climate Change Debate
Well, Winter is coming and along with the cold winds, falling temperatures and snowfall comes the annual blizzard of rhetoric from climate change deniers. “It’s cold!”, “It’s snowing!” and “Where’s your global warming now?” are refrains that are about as predictable as shorter days and bitter winds. America is truly a remarkable country. How can we be the most advanced nation on Earth and at the same time home to a robust anti-science movement that has managed to hijack political discourse and public policy? Perhaps if we pray to some stone gods we can stave off disaster.
The notion that we can close our eyes to changes in the world’s climate, and the consequences of those changes, and just continue with business as usual has about as much promise for redemption as idol worship. Nothing to see here folks. Just move along. Sea level rising. Polar ice melting. Unprecedented severe weather events. All just a part of the natural cycles of things. The fact that it all coincides with record levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Just coincidence. Chest pain, dizziness, tingling of the hands and arms. Not a heart attack, just a little indigestion. No exercise, bad diet, overweight. Just a coincidence. All is well.
The purpose here isn’t to debate whether or not climate change is real or even if it has origins in human activity. The point is to illustrate how irresponsible and foolish politicizing a scientific debate is and how dire the consequences of making national policy based upon politics rather than science are. Why do 30% of Americans persist in denying that climate change is real? Why do we allow national policy to be held hostage by the refusal of a significant, but nevertheless minority, portion of the populace who refuse to accept what an overwhelming majority of members of the scientific community have accepted as fact? If we can’t come to terms as a society with this disconnect between policy, politics and reality we will remain paralyzed. Inaction in the face of the mounting evidence that climate change is not only real, but accelerating, is a dangerous course.
If It ‘Aint Happenin’ Here-It ‘Aint Happenin’
As a country, we have come to view ourselves as the center of the universe. No doubt that the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians all had similar world views in their times. That was somewhat understandable for ancient civilizations with limited technological capabilities. For the United States in the 21st Century, this is myopic at best. So when there is a predicted increase in the intensity of Tropical Cyclones in the Indian Ocean basin or Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippine Islands it doesn’t create a ripple in public opinion in the U.S. After all, events that happen elsewhere in the world don’t really happen do they. It’s very easy for us to turn a blind eye to circumstances that exist beyond our borders, especially if they barely garner a mention on the evening news. By the way, the rest of the world absolutely believes in climate change.
However, when the strongest tornado ever recorded strikes Oklahoma, or the worst drought on record strikes central Texas or a record high storm surge inundates lower Manhattan, all within a 12 month period, you might think this series of events would begin to draw the attention of policy makers in the United States . Yet we remain unmoved. Real progress is elusive. This includes taking action on two fronts-reacting to the current and anticipated effects of climate change and taking steps to mitigate or eliminate our contribution to continued impact on the climate. That is how rational people would behave in the face of a serious threat. Instead, we allow the lowest common denominator to drive our policy action, or more accurately, inaction. We tolerate a failure to address one of the most important issues facing both our nation and the world based upon a phony debate fueled by special interests that profit from this gridlock.
It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept – Bill Watterson
Even in my home state of New Jersey, the power of special interests to unduly influence public policy on climate change is evident. A popular and secure Republican governor in a progressive state should be in a position to take some degree of political risk to move climate change policies forward. This would presumably be an imperative in a coastal state, vulnerable to the effects of climate change and sea level rise, that had just experienced the most destructive natural disaster in its history. Instead, Governor Christie withdrew the state from the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), slashed spending on green energy programs and is balking at requiring changes in the development footprint in vulnerable coastal areas of the state when rebuilding after Sandy. The governor is the same person who said, “climate change is real and it’s impacting our state” in 2011 and “I don’t think there’s been any proof thus far that Sandy was caused by climate change” in 2013. If politics can bring climate change policy to a standstill in New Jersey, there are few other places that offer hope of progress.
Meanwhile….In A Parallel Universe
Right next door in New York its a different world. Similarly impacted by Sandy, and the year before by Hurricane Irene, a much different approach is evident. Governor Andrew Cuomo said “I understand budgets are tight, but we can’t be short-sighted either… people too often ‘politicize’ climate change while avoiding the supporting hard science. Ocean temperatures are rising and we’re feeling it here in New York state.” The laws of physics remain constant on either side of the state line but the politics are quite different. This is an unacceptable way of governing. This is not an issue of Democrat vs. Republican, Conservative vs. Liberal or playing an issue for political gain. This is an issue of taking responsibility and governing in a rational and conscientious manner. I always had a saying as mayor,”take care of the future and the present has a way of taking care of itself”. That would seem to have as least some application to climate change policies.
So, if you are in a policy-making position- I’m talking to you! End the mental gymnastics necessary to continue governing without acknowledging climate change and sea level rise. When you jump off of a 50-story building, it isn’t credible to deny the existence of gravity as you pass the 20th floor. Your repudiation of science will come to a hard end just a few floors below. Tell your corporate contributors to figure out a way to make money from climate adaptation instead of desperately obstructing progress. And if you really don’t believe in climate change-say it loud and clear so the 69% of us (and the nearly 97% of climate researchers) who acknowledge the existence of climate change can hold you accountable. Denial of science is no way to govern and it is up to us to insure that our representatives are not allowed to lead without acknowledging reality any longer.