Climate change is forever

By EDITORIAL  |  November 7, 2012


You have to be a fool, a charlatan, or seriously uninformed to deny the reality of climate change.

Elected officials who are deniers fall into the first two groups. That a majority of them are Republicans should not surprise. Democrats, on the other hand, have little to crow about. The national election came and went with virtually no mention of global warming. Only New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's endorsement of President Obama powered the issue into the headlines.

The blinders of expediency keep the political class silent. And, as Wen Stephenson wrote in last week's Phoenix, the mainstream media has ignored its responsibility to push the issue forward. Meanwhile, our planet slowly ushers in a new era with bursts of destruction.

Superstorm Sandy is only the latest incident of ecological backlash spawned by long-term warming trends. Estimates of the damage keep climbing, but as we went to press they were at $50 billion. In New York City alone the number of those homeless ranges from 20,000 to 40,000. The New Jersey coast looks like a war zone, as do slices of Queens and Staten Island. Lower Manhattan and Hoboken were under water for days. The damage to coastal Connecticut was just as bad. All things considered, greater Boston got off lightly. What about next time?

Global warming, of course, does not cause hurricanes or tropical cyclones such as Sandy. What it does do is fuel their intensity and increase their frequency. Last year Vermont was hard-hit by rains from Hurricane Irene, causing unexpected flooding of surprising intensity over a much larger area than anticipated. It is impossible to link a single storm with a larger pattern of change. But the warming trend is clear, and so are the results.

This past summer wildfires ravaged parts of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Colorado. At the same time, an unprecedented heat wave throughout the Midwest brought three-digit temperatures, along with their familiar cousin, drought. As was the case with Sandy, these naturally occurring disasters were intensified in both depth and breadth by climate change.

Take the Colorado fires as an example. A warmer-than-usual winter meant a lighter-than-usual snowpack in the Sierra Mountains — and that snow, in turn, melted sooner. Higher overall temperatures meant less cooling at night, so forests were prematurely dry and ready for ignition. Add a bolt of lightning and presto — hellfire on earth.

Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer said the wildfires of 2010 are "vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."

The recent past provides enough examples that you'd think common sense would cause climate-change deniers to at least pause and maybe reconsider their delusional position. The problem is, this right-wing ideology is grounded in a pre-modern, superstitious frame of reference that denies evolution and holds that rape cannot cause pregnancy. It's rather amazing that deniers accept that the earth is round and that it revolves around the sun.

Companies such as Exxon are masterful at exploiting this peculiarly American brand of willful ignorance. And Corporate America's hired hands among Republicans and conservative Democrats are quick to play along. But not all capitalists are willing to wallow in denial.

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