Climate change (CC) is like the cat in the old song “The Cat Came Back”: “The cat came back the very next day . . . The cat came back, he just wouldn't stay away.” Our headlines may chase CC concerns away for a while with stories about the Trump Organization facing charges in a New York criminal court, or the collapse of a condo building in south Florida causing many deaths, or the rapid and alarming spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus; but like the cat in the song, CC keeps coming back. It calls out desperately for our attention.
Some recent examples:
- former President Obama’s indicating that failure to address climate change would be the issue calling forth the harshest criticism from people living a hundred years from now;
- the extreme heat wave in the Pacific Northwest;
- a leaked draft report in June from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and
- New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo’s column (30 June) “Democrats Have a Year to Save the Planet.”
Regarding the heat wave that brought record-high 100+ degree temperatures to Seattle and Portland, human-caused climate change certainly played a part. As one expert climatologist put it, “this heat wave would not have been as—nearly as brutal and deadly if it hadn't been for what's coming out of our tailpipes and smokestacks.”
Although the IPCC draft report was not meant to be publicly aired—or perhaps partly because of that fact—it was brutally frank. One summary of it quotes it as stating, “The worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own.” It adds, “Climate change will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.”
The summary indicates the real possibility that by 2050, “130 million people will face starvation, 350 million will suffer from prolonged drought, and 420 million more people will be exposed to extreme and potentially deadly heat waves.” Moreover, “millions of people who live along coastlines around the world could be battered by multiple climate calamities at once: drought, heatwaves, cyclones, wildfires and flooding.”
Why do we constantly let other issues distract us from zeroing in on saving our planet and helping to provide a liveable environment for our grandchildren?
Manjoo’s column about the Democrats having “a Year to Save the Planet” is scary indeed. He is fearful that the $2 trillion infrastructure and climate plan President Biden proposed in March will not be passed in Congress. As Manjoo explains it, the compromise that Biden reached with a bipartisan group of senators, “abandons just about every major Biden idea for combating global warming.” True, the president hopes that if and when the compromise bill is passed, the Democrats in Congress will pass the more climate-oriented other part of the original plan—in the Senate through the process known as reconciliation, which would require only unanimous Democratic support. But that hope is a very precarious one. As Manjoo emphasizes, “With a single death or illness, Democrats could lose their advantage in the Senate; in next year’s midterm elections, they could lose Congress entirely.” Thus, the one year that the Democrats have “to save the planet.”
Amid the alarming words cited above we scratch our heads and ask, “Why are we Americans not doing more?” Why do we constantly let other issues distract us from zeroing in on saving our planet and helping to provide a liveable environment for our grandchildren?
Five years ago, my “In the 1930s Many Ignored Hitler; Now, It’s Global Warming” attempted to provide some answers. It noted that people often vote contrary to rationality and that climate-change deniers were found in greater proportions among the less educated and older voters. Moreover, “in the 1930s [in countries like Britain and France], as today, other matters were more important to voters . . . . In 2016 . . . e.g., jobs and economic wellbeing, terrorism, immigration, foreign affairs, and morality issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.” Also, in the 1930s and in 2016, not enough citizens exercised sufficient political wisdom to realize that the main aim of politics is furthering the common good and prioritizing key issues--like opposing Hitler or tackling climate change—is essential to achieving that aim.
Last September my “Voters Say Climate Change Is Not Very Important. Are They Crazy?” indicated that attitudes had not changed significantly enough between 2016 and 2020. Nine or ten issues were still more important to voters than climate change.
Other commentators on climate-change denial have noted other reasons. Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe, for example, pointed out that “we humans are really good at psychologically distancing ourselves from things that we think will matter in the future, but not now.” She cited saving money for retirement, exercise, and good eating as examples. For a better future, we should do all three, but we often don’t. She mentioned the gap between people’s acknowledgement that climate change is a real problem (almost 75 percent of polled people in the USA) and people’s belief that it would affect them (only a tad over 40 percent).
She also provides a whole list of things we can do, from the personal to the national levels. Other individuals like British natural historian David Attenborough, in Netflix’s A Life on Our Planet (2020), or organizations like 350.org (see its website) also furnish many actions people can take.
A central impediment to meaningful actions, as I pointed out six and a half years ago and again last year, is Republican opposition to climate-change legislation. Although there have been recent signs that Republicans, especially younger ones, are starting to take the issue more seriously, there are almost no indications that congressional Republicans are ready to agree to the drastic steps necessary to prevent or seriously mitigate future climate crises.
In late 2019 I asked, “Does Our Climate Crisis Make the 2020 Election Our Most Crucial One Ever?” My answer was “yes.” A little over a year from now the 2022 elections will determine the makeup of our next Congress. With leaders like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell and so many climate deniers and minimizers among Republican congresspeople, the Republican Party must loose seats in both the House and Senate. Our future—and that of our kids and grandkids—depends upon it.
Walter G. Moss