The politicians won’t act on the climate – until it becomes politically dangerous not to

The morning I wrote this post, it was zero F when I woke up, which makes talking about global warming seem a little silly. But weather is different than climate, of course, and despite the polar vortex that froze us out last winter, 2015 was the globe’s hottest year on record.

The Paris climate talks that I discussed in my last post are over, and some measured success emerged: necessary steps were taken, but they are far from sufficient.

These two graphics by Perrin Ireland that I got from Rolly Montpelier’s website give you a neat little summary of what was agreed to. (The second graphic explains who those little guys are who are walking down the yellow brick road in the first graphic.)



Estimates vary, but if every country lives up to the commitment it made, global warming will be limited to somewhere between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius. That amount would be disastrous for humanity, “wiping low-lying islands off the map as seas continue to rise; pushing many plants and animals toward extinction; increasing the intensity of droughts, floods, heat waves and storms; and costing all of us a lot of money,” as CNN’s climate beat reporter John Sutter lays it out. (The agreement resets the target for atmospheric carbon at 1.5 degrees, down from 2 degrees. It’s now around .8 degrees C. and moving up faster than expected.)

But the agreement also entails accountability and calls for subsequent meetings where the world’s nations can assess their progress and reassess their goals. Most climate groups thought the Paris agreement was the best that could be expected and believe it is heading the world’s nations in the right direction.

But I have trouble sharing the optimism, given the state of politics in these United States. While in many, probably most, of the nations that signed onto the agreement, the imperative of responding to climate change is not a political issue, that’s not the case in our country. Sure, it’s been cruelly cold in Chicago for a couple weeks, but what’s really bone chilling is the Republican primaries.

Just like Ronald Reagan took the solar panels off the White House, his political heirs have resisted every government effort to deal with climate change. And each of the GOP candidates for president plans to reverse the steps the Obama administration has taken to slow carbon emissions.

Here’s what came from the Republicans when the agreement was announced:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama is “making promises he can’t keep” and should remember that the agreement “is subject to being shredded in 13 months.” McConnell noted that the presidential election is next year and the agreement could be reversed if the GOP wins the White House. (Dec. 13, 2015, AP)

It seems incredible that anyone could live with themselves if they actually stopped the country, and with it, most likely, the rest of the world, from doing what nearly every nation in the world has deemed imperative.

As Secretary of State John Kerry said:

“This has to happen. I believe this will continue because I just personally cannot believe that any person who doesn’t understand the science and isn’t prepared to do for the next generation what we did here today and follow through on it cannot and will not be elected president of the United States.” (AP)

I think I know what he means. Incredulity certainly strikes me, too, when I see the politics of denial in action.

But, then, here it is, for all to see:

Trump: Obama thinks it’s the number one problem of the world today. And I think it’s very low on the list. So I am not a believer, and I will, unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather.

Cruz: The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming. For the last 18 years, the satellite data – we have satellites that monitor the atmosphere. …Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power.

Rubio: We’re not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate. America is a lot of things, the greatest country in the world, absolutely. But America is not a planet.

Bush: I don’t think it’s the highest priority.

Chris Christie: I think there’s a lot more important things to worry about.

To me, the only thing that can ensure a U.S. follow through is a grassroots movement big enough to take the issue out of partisan politics. But that isn’t likely to happen in 2016. The best we can hope for is that there are candidates at every level who run on support for COP21 and Obama’s Clean Power Plan – and win. (Yes, states and cities, not just countries, can put a price on carbon and invest in renewable energy. California, for one, has already taken some major steps.)

First, that means stay informed. A good start would be John Sutter’s postmortem of the Paris conference and his five things that must be done now.

Second, don’t throw up your hands in despair. That would be easy to do. I find myself making plenty of excuses about why I haven’t written this post sooner, why I haven’t yet investigated installing solar panels on my roof, why I have only given one Climate Reality Project slide show presentation. And I’m retired, with plenty of free time on my hands. So I know it won’t be easy for you. But I also know my grandchildren, and yes, my children, will have a better life if we start NOW to stop burning fossil fuels.

5 thoughts on “The politicians won’t act on the climate – until it becomes politically dangerous not to

  1. All the more reason why it is important to elect a Democrat. However, I assume if you are reading this post, you probably are already

  2. Did you see the Republican debate tonight? Trump boasting that he has a big putz. If he said he WAS a big putz, I’d agree with him. Glad you are focused on this issue, it’s really a question of our survival.

    • Thanks. Didn’t see the debate, but I read about it. These guys are unbelievable. I was in Evanston Wed. night to see Naomi Klein. She’s really a powerful speaker. Maybe Bernie will make her Energy Secretary.

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