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Since September 2019, deadly fires have been spreading havoc in Australia. According to one source, “the fires have already burned about 14.5 million acres — an area almost as large as West Virginia,” and killed “half a billion native animals.” Certainly a major cause has been that 2019 was Australia’s driest and hottest year on record. Almost all credible climate experts believe that human-caused global warming is a major cause of the fires. Even Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a minimizer of climate change's significance, finally (in early January 2020) admitted that “climate change has impacted on the world's weather patterns [and] has led to where we are here today to some extent, combined with many other factors, the drought being the most significant.”

human-caused climate-change deniers

The problem, however, is that prior to this crisis Morrison did not take climate change seriously. As Australian writer Richard Flanagan stated, hehas minimized the connection between climate change and Australia’s extreme environmental conditions. . . . He has derided calls to end coal mining as ‘reckless,’ prioritizing economic interests and loyalty to a powerful lobby [the fossil fuel industry]. He has opposed taxing heat-trapping emissions or taking other significant steps to reduce them,” and, as of the start of 2020, “he has signaled no change in his policies.”

A key Morrison response to the crisis? “There has been a lot of blame being thrown around. . . . It doesn’t help anybody at this time, and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise.”

As the crisis continues in Australia and responsible news programs covering the world continue to depict the great suffering (deaths, loss of homes, etc.) of the Australian people, what lessons can we in the USA learn from this ongoing tragedy?

Most importantly in this 2020 election year, the Australian tragedy tells us we should vote out all the human-caused climate-change deniers and minimizers. Replace them with a president, congresspeople, and state officials who recognize climate change for what it is--“the biggest crisis facing our planet.”

Most importantly in this 2020 election year, the Australian tragedy tells us we should vote out all the human-caused climate-change deniers and minimizers. Replace them with a president, congresspeople, and state officials who recognize climate change for what it is--“the biggest crisis facing our planet.”

Vote out Donald Trump, who has done more than any other human to set back effective climate-change responses. (Even the business-friendly Forbes Magazine opines that Trump’s climate-change policies have been nightmarish.)

Vote against the Republican Oklahoman running for the Senate in 2020--it might be incumbent Sen. James Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, or Scott Pruitt, former Trump appointee as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who did so much to weaken it. Vote out Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska, with a Ph.D in history from Yale, who admits that human-caused climate change exists, but makes statements like this: “Things like the Paris Climate Accord tend to be more binding on us than on other nations. And so, that's not good for the U.S. consumer and it's not a long-term solution.” He also hurls the charge of “alarmism” at many advocates of addressing the crisis.

One suspects that Sasse and many other Republican representatives in Congress know that climate change is more serious than they admit, but are fearful of advocating measures that might upset the many Republican voters (and fossil fuel lobbyists) now backing Trump. In the 2020 elections, there may be a Republican candidate somewhere that would combat global warming more effectively than a Democratic challenger, but I know of none. If 2020 voters consider climate change a crisis issue, they would do well to follow my 2016 advice: “Vote Democratic.”

“But we in the USA are not having the crisis the Australians are having with their uncontrollable fires,” someone might object. True, but we’re moving in that direction, and with politicians like Trump controlling matters it’s only a question of time before we experience similar crises.

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In mid-2015, I wrote “Sorry Kids: We Were Too Stupid to Deal with Global Warming,” and indicated many of the ways climate-change problems were getting worse. Since then our climate-affected situation in the USA has become even more perilous--the election of Trump; all his actions crippling our fight against global warming (withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, incapacitating the EPA, etc., etc., etc.); continuing drought in California and then its wildfires of 2018-2019; ice melting in record-breaking amounts in Greenland, the Arctic, and Anarctic, contributing to rising sea levels that if the rise continues will threaten cities like Miami and New York, as well as other low-lying cities like London and Tokyo; and increased flooding in areas like Davenport, Iowa along the Mississippi and other rivers.

The previous paragraph may seem “alarmist,” but a sense of alarm is just what is now needed. Consider the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)’s 2018 report to the U. S. Congress and President Trump: “High temperature extremes and heavy precipitation events are increasing. Glaciers and snow cover are shrinking, and sea ice is retreating. Seas are warming, rising, and becoming more acidic, and marine species are moving to new locations toward cooler waters. Flooding is becoming more frequent along the U.S. coastline. Growing seasons are lengthening, and wildfires are increasing.” Moreover, unless there are “substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions . . . substantial net damage to the U.S. economy [will occur] throughout this century, especially in the absence of increased adaptation efforts. With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.”

Despite such predictions many Americans, especially Trump supporters and Republicans, are not alarmed about climate change. They think, like Trump, that it is a “hoax.” Or they have too many other pressing issues to worry about. Or the whole climate question is too complex. It reminds me of the responses of the French and British to Hitler after he came to power in 1933 up until they went to war with him in 1939.

Eventually, after much more damage is done, such global-warming deniers and minimizers will grudgingly admit, “Yea, maybe there is some human-caused global warming going on,” but “let’s not play the blame game,” yada, yada, yada. As with the Hitler, Nazi problem, late recognition of an evil is better than none, but meanwhile great suffering and damage will have occurred.

There have been good books like David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth(2019) dealing with the climate crisis. Some good films like Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Some good TV series like Planet Earth and PBS’s Peril and Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change. And some good fiction like T. C. Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth(2000). The novel is set in California and bounces back and forth from the the 1980s and 1990s to 2025 and 2026. By the latter years, California and much of the rest of the world is experiencing an ecological nightmare. Boyle writes:

Global warming. I remember the time when people debated not only the fact of it but the consequence. It did not sound so bad, on the face of it, to someone from Winnipeg, Grand Forks or Sakhalin Island. The greenhouse effect, they called it. And what are greenhouses but pleasant, warm, nurturing places, where you can grow sago palms and hydroponic tomatoes during the deep-freeze of the winter? But that’s not how it is at all. No, it’s like leaving your car in the parking lot in the sun all day with the windows rolled up and then climbing in and discovering they’ve been sealed shut—and the doors too. . . . That’s how it is, and that’s why for the next six months it’s going to get so hot the Pulchris River will evaporate and rise back up into the sky like a ghost in a long trailing shroud and all this muck will be baked to the texture of concrete. Global warming. It’s a fact.

Many animal species also no longer exist: “Alaskan snow crab (now extinct, like everything else that swims or crawls in the sea, except maybe zebra mussels) . . . . The cheetahs, the cape buffalo, rhinos and elephants are gone.” Deforestation, bad weather, and human carelessness have destroyed many of the world’s trees.

Too bad not many deniers and minimizers read Boyle’s book or The Uninhabitale Earth, or saw First Reformed or the two above-mentioned TV series. Too busy watching Fox News? Or talking to or reading postings from other deniers and minimizers? Too bad not many people, either on the Left or the Right, followed President Obama’s advice: “If we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country.” Instead he urged that we “actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs.”

I know many people have serious problems and concerns other than climate change, and I have no desire to minimize them. But so too did people in Great Britain and France after Hitler came to power in 1933, problems like dealing with the aftershocks of the Great Depression. But while “England Slept” (as Winston Churchill and later John Kennedy put it), along with France, Hitler was building up German military strength. Let’s hope that future evils unleashed by our collective climate-change “sleeping” will not rival those, including the Holocaust, experienced by people in the early and mid-1940s. But they could be even worse.

In looking toward the future, the words of the teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg should shake all of us adults: “The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children or grandchildren, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you, the people who were around, back in 2018. Maybe they will ask why you didn't do anything while there still was time to act.”

walter moss

Walter G. Moss