During a Congressional hearing this year, Texas Rep. Joe Barton (R) invoked Noah's Ark saying, "I would point out that if you're a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn't because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon."
Really? Because 97% of the world's climate scientists beg to differ today.
Pope Francis, who also reads the Bible, understands the current threat better than Rep. Barton. He said recently that we must be "custodians of creation," respecting the "beauty of nature and the grandeur of the cosmos." He noted the failure to address the warming planet could bring apocalyptic consequences stating, "Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!"
Three authoritative and frightening reports on climate change were released this year. They come from completely different sources: the U.S. Global Change Research Program; the United Nations; and the U.S. Department of Defense.
The first report, the National Climate Assessment, is a U.S. Government interagency report required every four years and established under first President Bush. The Congressionally-mandated report released this year was authored by 300 leading climate scientists and experts, and reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences.
A decade ago, these scientists predicted the weather changes we are seeing now. Here are just three major points the National Climate Assessment noted this year:
· The warming trend is clear and primarily the result of human activities. The last decade was the warmest on record.
· Heavy precipitation and extreme heat events are increasing and the risks of such extreme events will rise in the future.
· The sharp decline in summer Arctic sea ice has continued, is unprecedented and is consistent with human-induced climate change. A new record for minimum area of Arctic sea ice was set in 2012.
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also issued its annual report for 2014, the fifth of its kind. Its findings cement the fact that not only is climate change here, it has been affecting us for decades. Of the previous 30 years, each decade has been successively warmer than the last, and each warmer than any time in history since 1850. Greenland and the Antarctic glaciers and icepack are melting, and the sea levels and ocean temperature are rising. CO2 is 40% higher now than since pre-industrial times and one of the main causes is the burning of fossil fuels.
Finally, a recent report by the Department of Defense (DOD) outlines the threat of climate change in national security terms. It notes climate change would exacerbate "poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions -- conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."
The DOD "expects climate change to challenge its ability to fulfill its mission in the future." And it has been saying this since 2010.
Now, let us consider the responses of elected Republicans to the recent findings.
House Speaker John Boehner says he is "not qualified" to debate the science of climate change." Yet he seems unwilling to listen to the climate experts who testify before Congress. Representative Marco Rubio from Florida - where seawater occasionally now floods the sewer system - said, "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it." His fellow statesman, Florida Governor Rick Scott, also hides behind recent statements like, "I am not a scientist," but has also said, "I've not been convinced that there's any man-made climate change."
These politicians have these three reports at their fingertips, in case they'd like to learn something from those who are qualified.
The extreme right in Congress effectively gagged our military. Just two months ago, on May 22, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill that, despite the DOD request, no funding could be used to address climate change as a national security issue. All but three Republicans voted for the McKinley Amendment. Save four members, Democrats all voted against it.
As Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) said in response, "The McKinley amendment would require the Defense Department to assume that the cost of carbon pollution is zero. That's science denial at its worst and it fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren."
Once there were more sensible Republicans. President George W. Bush's homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, said that climate change is "a real serious problem," and if ignored it "would bring destruction and economic damage." Climate change is not a partisan issue. Like terrorism, climate change sees no party lines and threatens us all.
Charles Pierce summed up the debate, "Can this country learn anymore? That is a question that underlies so many others. We have allowed ourselves in our politics to become contemptuous of knowledge, wary of science, and suspicious of expertise."
If established climate science, unfolding in real time before our eyes, does not prevail in this debate, then the fate of the world may look a lot like the dystopia popular in much of current cinema. If the United States does not lead in this issue, there will be little progress.
President Obama did take steps to gradually reduce carbon emissions from power plants, further implementing the EPA's Clean Air Act regulations. As a bonus, the U.S. will have cleaner air and less mercury pollution as a result of burning less coal. This is a major step in the right direction for America and the world.
Paul Krugman pointed out these regulations can be implemented at little cost to our economy. Despite the attack on the regulations by the Chamber of Commerce, it admitted the cost is small. Krugman writes, "So what the Chamber of Commerce is actually saying is that we can take dramatic steps on climate -- steps that would transform international negotiations, setting the stage for global action -- while reducing our incomes by only one-fifth of 1 percent."
Regional cap-and-trade programs will allow states and companies to slowly reduce - through retrofitting designs - their carbon emissions. Some states have already reduced emissions by 40% below 2005 levels. Over-all, carbon emissions have already been reduced by 13%. Progress is already happening. Republicans, meanwhile, are missing the boat. President Obama is doing what he can. The United States of America is a world leader and the world must respond to climate change.
We have a choice before us, and a chance to gain the upper hand on this rapidly expanding threat. The changes are already here, but we could stop its most damaging effects. As astrophysicist and Cosmos host, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, "Vested interests still hire their own scientists to confuse the issue. But in the end, nature will not be fooled."