Climate change should not be a political issue

While Americans are attempting to fully comprehend the U.S. Supreme Court’s hugely controversial ruling on President Obama’s health care program, another issue is begging for attention. Famed environmentalist Bill McKibben is doing his part to bring that other issue into clearer focus.

Writing in a recent edition of the London-based newspaper The Guardian, McKibben declared, flatly, that “global warming is under way” and he cited several signs that support his contention.

“In the Gulf, tropical storm Debby dropped what one meteorologist described as ‘unthinkable amounts’ of rain on Florida. Debby marked the first time in history that we’d reached the fourth named storm of the year in June; normally it takes till August to reach that mark,” he began.

“In the west, of course, firestorms raged: the biggest fire in New Mexico history, and the most destructive in Colorado’s annals,” McKibben, of Middlebury College, continued. “(That would be the Colorado Springs blaze; the old record had been set the week before, in Fort Collins.) One resident described escaping across suburban soccer fields in his car with ‘hell in the rearview mirror.’”

McKibben went on, “The record-setting temperatures (it had never been warmer in Colorado) that fueled those blazes drifted east across the continent as the week wore on: Across the Plains, there were places where the mercury reached levels it hadn’t touched even in the Dust Bowl years, America’s previous all-time highs.”

But remember: McKibben was writing for a British audience. Here at home, the relationship between the recent weather and the issue of global warming was not being addressed quite as directly.

Sunday’s Washington Post was dominated by accounts of the tremendously damaging storm that swept through areas surrounding our nation’s capital this weekend. The storm took several lives, knocked down trees, and left vast numbers of people without electric power.

That was bad enough, but the storm was followed by an unbearable heat wave, so there was no air conditioning to offer relief.

But the Washington area was by no means the only area suffering from the heat wave. As McKibben pointed out in his Guardian essay, the high temperatures posed a huge problem for American farmers. He quoted the president of a Nebraska-based commodity consulting firm: “There’s always some level of angst at this time of year, but it’s significantly greater now and with good reason,” Bill Lapp said. “We’ve had extended periods of drought.”

That’s why, McKibben added, “Prices for corn and wheat were spiking upwards, rising almost a third on global markets as forecasters suggested grain stockpiles could shrink by as much as 50 percent as the summer wears on. But in the political world, there wasn’t much reaction at all.”

And that last sentence is the one that deserves our attention, because it implies that our nation is not yet ready, politically, to respond constructively to the grave implications of global warming. There are still politicians who view the entire topic with either suspicion (they don’t trust the scientists) or cynicism (it’s an issue too dear to the hearts of their ideological opponents).

Last week the CBS Evening News reported that unless something is done soon, the eastern shore from North Carolina to Massachusetts will in time be swamped by rising tides. But the program did not mention the political opposition — or the public’s seeming indifference — to any proposals to prevent such a catastrophe.

McKibben’s conclusion: “There are disaster areas declared across the country right now, but the biggest one is in D.C.”

Americans, collectively, need to wake up. Global warming shouldn’t be a political issue.

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