Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Civilization Exists by Geological Consent": Hurricane Sandy, Climate Change, and the 2012 Elections

"Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice" Will Durant
The opposite side of the country, and the opposite problem. A decade-long drought plagues the southwest, as shown in this low-water picture of Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border.
Watching the tragedy unfold along the eastern seaboard, I was struck by the tenuousness of the existence of our society. It is simply unbelievable how quickly things can fall apart when the water rises and the power goes out for more than a few hours. The fragile infrastructure that keeps society going is stressed beyond limits, lives are disrupted, and people start to die.

Anybody who thinks they are somehow immune to natural disasters is deluding themselves. No matter where one lives there are dangers, whether earthquakes, flash floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, heat waves or droughts. With the exception of earthquakes and eruptions, these dangers are related to climate, and they are inextricably related to the changing climate brought about by the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

People can choose to "believe" that global warming isn't happening. But that won't change the reality of the phenomenon. They can also chose to not believe in gravity, but that won't keep them from falling off a cliff. Global warming is real, and climate change is happening now, just as predicted (and sometimes with greater intensity than the early predictions of climate scientists).

Knowledge of a threat allows for preparation to meet the threat. Politicians have used and overused this principle in relation to terrorism and national defense throughout our nation's history. Sometimes the threat was real, and sometimes it was exaggerated or even imaginary (weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, anyone?).

Today, unfortunately, the politicians on one side of the aisle in Congress are in a near total state of denial on global climate change. They deny global warming in the face of terrifying heat waves and droughts that have caused havoc in their own states and congressional districts. They deny it in the face of disappearing icecaps and glaciers around the world. And they deny it even as some of America's most iconic cities suffer profound damage from unprecedented storms. The few in their party who understand and accept the findings of climate scientists are not allowed to act for the common good on legislation at the cost of tea-party challenges in subsequent elections.

One of the most stunning moments of the current presidential campaign came when Mitt Romney stood in front of his supporters at the Republican convention and "I'm not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet" to huge cheers from the crowd. Since Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern seaboard, he has refused to say anything on climate change, for fear of losing his Tea Party support, or for fear of losing votes from the two-thirds of the U.S. population that accepts the phenomenon of human-induced climate change. His failure to take a clear stand on this issue does not encourage confidence in his leadership abilities.

If we as a society deny the reality of global warming, we will not prepare for the coming changes that will happen, and that is a prescription for disaster. Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time. One party denies its existence. What will they do (or not do) if they are given the reins of government? We lost eight years under the Bush administration, and Republicans put up every possible roadblock to climate legislation during the last four years of the Obama administration.

People have a great many reasons for voting the way that they do. Sometimes the reasons are logical, and sometimes they are emotional. Sometimes their reasons are economic or self-serving (the undue influence of anonymous corporate money is another disturbing issue). I will be voting for science, and the politicians who understand their responsibility to consider science as they vote on legislation concerning global climate change, energy issues, and education. There is one major political party in our country that has lost its way in this regard, and as such, they are supremely unqualified to govern our country as we face one of the major issues of our generation.
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