A HURRICANE has disrupted the Republican National Convention. Instead of Mitt and Paul, we’re focusing on Isaac and Katrina. The irony would be delicious, were it not for the fact that hurricanes are bringers of tragedy and destroyers of lives, as we in upstate New York well know, and that the storm appears headed for New Orleans.
If the situation were reversed, of course—if a major weather event were to stymie the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next week—some Christian conservatives would use the opportunity to suggest that this is a sign, that God was angry with us, that the hurricane was retribution for abortion, or gay marriage, or the ACLU, or Gabby Douglas’s hair, or something they don’t like that isn’t related in any way shape or form to the weather.
Let me take a page from the Pat Robertson playbook, then, and throw this out there: maybe the storm gathering over the GOP faithful is a sign that the Republicans should re-examine their dangerously retrograde view on climate change.
Last October, one of the few remaining skeptics, the stalwart astrophysicist Richard Muller, finally had his road-to-Damascus moment with respect to climate change. His skepticism, it should be noted, derived from the issue of data manipulation in some of the studies, and not from the fact that his study was partially underwritten by the earthraping Koch brothers.
“Our biggest surprise,” Muller explained in a statement, “was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.”
So: the climate really is changing. This is not just scientific consensus; it is now scientific unanimity. It also makes intuitive sense. Does it not follow that if we take all the oil out of the ground and burn it into dark clouds of noxious smoke, after a century or two, the environment might be affected just a tad?
I read that story on my iPhone, sitting in my car, enjoying the gusts of heat blasting from the vents. I was in the car because we’d lost power, as a devastating blizzard—thick, dense, deep, heavy snow, almost a foot of it—poured down on the Northeast.
We were out for 24 hours. My parents, who live in a Jersey suburb typically impervious to weather events, were out for three days. My brother-in-law and his family, in suburban Connecticut, were in the dark for almost a week.
The Associated Press released a study a few weeks after Muller’s about-face, the work of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which focused less on subtle shifts in temperature and death rates of polar bears to a more immediate and exigent result of climate change: extreme weather.
“The extremes are a really noticeable aspect of climate change,” Jerry Meehl, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the Washington Post. “I think people realize that the extremes are where we are going to see a lot of the impacts of climate change.”
So: the climate really is changing. Which means that weather patterns are changing. And will continue to change. More floods, more droughts, more heat waves, more crippling blizzards in October, more devastating hurricanes in August.
Here’s the situation: we are destroying the planet. And we’re destroying the planet quickly—so quickly that it’s hard to wrap my mind around it. It all sounds like the plot from a Roland Emmerich movie.
Because the mainstream media and the federal government have demonstrated zero sense of urgency about the impeding doom, climate change, like the war in Afghanistan or the scarier components of the Patriot Act, is easy to ignore. We tune out Al Gore, skip past the warning-filled articles proliferating in the Science section, leave Elizabeth Kolbert’s hardbound copy of Field Notes from a Catastrophe on the shelf.
Have Obama or Romney mentioned it once during the campaign?
But the situation is dire, and the threat is urgent.
Throwing the might of the American imagination at the crisis, and funding it generously with big federal dough, is, simply put, the only way to solve the catastrophic problem. Decades ago, a team of scientists in the New Mexican desert, under enormous pressure, figured out how to destroy the world. Today, we need a similar squad of brainiacs to figure out how to save it. What in the world are we waiting for?
The first step in solving a problem, the old saw goes, is admitting you have a problem. Unfortunately, the clowns bumbling out of the little clown car that comprised the field of Republican presidential candidates during the primaries, with the exception of Jon Huntsman, were outspoken in their skepticism.
“The science is not settled on this,” Rick Perry decreed, in one of the countless debates. “The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense. Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”
In case Perry’s casting himself as Galileo left any room for doubt on his position, his campaign’s communications director, Ray Sullivan, made this statement to ABC News: “I think the governor answered consistent with his philosophy, consistent with what frankly a lot of Americans and a lot of Republicans believe — that the climate is changing. We’re not sure that it’s man-made. In fact, there’s a lot of questions about whether it’s man-made. And we shouldn’t jeopardize the jobs and the economy and the future of this country on science that’s not proven. That’s what the governor has said, said tonight and will continue to say going forward.”
Another latter-day Galileo, Michele Bachmann, remarked, “I think all these issues have to be settled on the base of real science, not manufactured science.”
Koch Brothers’ puppet and former sexual harassment defendant Herman Cain did not mince words: “Man-made global warming is poppycock.”
When Chris Christie was briefly contemplating throwing his hat into the ring, one of the first things he did was distance himself from the eggheads at Princeton who insist that global warming is real.
When Mitt Romney went on record as being open-minded on the subject—his exact statement was, “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer. … I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that”—Rush Limbaugh played the clip on his radio show and then said, “Bye-bye, nomination. Another one down. We’re in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates that want to buy into it.” (I couldn’t find climate change or the environment even mentioned on Romney’s campaign website, so he seems to have learned his Limbaugh lesson).
For his part, President Obama does not deny the science, which is helpful. But he is no more an environmentalist than he is a Muslim, foreigner, socialist, or liberal. Three-plus years in, climate change is clearly not among his top priorities.
The EPA chair was on Bill Maher awhile back. She tried to spin the alleged good that President Obama has done for the green cause. “We have implemented new efficiency standards on cars,” she said. “They will get 50 miles to the gallon by 2025.”
Maher looked at her like he might one of the more out-there cultists in Religulous and said, “Twenty-twenty-five? Really? That’s the best we can do? We might all be dead by 2025.”
It would have been funny if it weren’t true.
At this point, liberals and conservatives should be debating the course of action to take on climate change, not whether or not it exists. It’s like there’s an asteroid-sized meteor headed straight for us, and the Republicans are dickering over the accuracy of the telescopes.
To state the obvious: there’s nothing so important as the environment. Without the planet, it makes no difference what Romney paid in taxes or how many years Ellen’s been married or whether life begins at conception or why Todd Akin fancies himself an expert on rape. It’s all moot. All of it. Where is the urgency?
If you are a journalist moderating a debate, or otherwise in a position to question or comment on the candidates, and one of them spouts off poppycock (to use Cain’s term), you must—you must—ask the tough follow-up question. As Aaron Sorkin has shown so skillfully on The Newsroom, the journalistic practice of “equal time”—meaningless anyway in the era of FoxNews—only goes so far. Should Hitler have been granted equal time to defend the Final Solution?
And if you vote for a candidate who denies the science, you are voting to ruin the earth. You are voting—let me phrase it in a way that the right might understand—to abort the planet.
When the Rapture comes, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. The chosen ones will ascend with Him to Heaven; the rest of us will burn in Hell (or remain on the globally-warm Earth).
This is what Michele Bachmann believes. This is what Rick Perry believes. If Romney is a devout Mormon, this is what he believes, too.
Personally, I reject any religion that preaches an “End Days” prophesy. And the notion that the Leader of the Free World would have an ulterior motive in hastening the apocalypse—i.e., the assurance that he or she is on the fast track to the Celestial kingdom and the third degree of glory—makes me extremely uncomfortable.
But I believe in God. I believe in prayer; there is great power in having thousands of people in the Astrodome praying at the same time about the same thing. I pray that the storm, like GOP intransigence on this issue, blows over. But prayer without action is perhaps putting too much onus on the Creator—who is also, incidentally, the Destroyer.
Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the Arctic Sea ice hit a record low, a record that may endure for another two weeks, when even more ice is expected to melt away.
The storm is here. The hard rain is falling. Why are we talking about politics when we should be talking about the weather?