I'm Proud To Be An 'Alarmist'

10/16/2017 04:51 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2017
Edward Kimmel

With deaths and destruction still being assessed, the California wildfires are bringing us close to the costliest year on record for weather-related disasters in the United States. The cost I’m referring to is dollars. There is no way to count the misery these disasters cause for their victims.

This also is a year in which we have heard people and publications on the far-right continue referring to climate-action advocates as alarmists. I am one of them – an alarmist, that is. I am a proud card-carrying member of the vocal demographic that is tireless – and some say tiresome – in its warnings about the catastrophic road we are on, in large part right now because of the current Congress and President of the United States.

The good news is that so many cities, states and businesses have said they will fill the leadership void in Washington and try to comply with Paris climate agreement that Donald Trump has rejected. The bad news is that the Paris targets are still not enough to keep climate change from going out of control, and federal action is necessary to achieve the speed and quantity of carbon-cutting that climate stabilization requires.

Nevertheless, the current Congress, like its recent predecessors, is doing nothing to address global warming, while the current President, unlike his predecessor, is doing everything he can to make sure the federal government won’t do anything about it. The Trump administration’s war on climate action is part of a larger war it is waging against environmental stewardship generally. So far, it seems to be winning.

But back to us alarmists. One thing that’s alarming is how climate-change skeptics and mouthpieces for the carbon industry can get away with denying that global warming has anything to do with drought and wildfires in the West, hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, sunny-day flooding in Florida, severe floods and snowstorms in the Northeast, and record floods in the Midwest. Does it not seem somewhat persuasive that these types of extreme weather events are what legitimate climate scientists have warned us about for many years?

Deniers and skeptics use “alarmist” to make the advocates of climate action out to be panicky environmental hypochondriacs. But as I have pointed out before in these blogs, there is a big difference between Chicken Little and Paul Revere. Well-schooled climate alarmists are in the Paul Revere category.

Think of it this way: The patriots who heard Paul Revere picked up their muskets to confront the looming threat. We don’t know whether anyone who heard Revere’s warning decided it was B.S. and went back to sleep, but that’s what Congress is doing today. For his part, Trump would have shot Paul Revere’s horse.

The real Chicken Littles of today are the people who claim that reducing greenhouse gas pollution would be disastrous for the economy, as though getting energy from the sky (sunlight and wind) means the sky is falling. Their alarms are discredited completely by the facts a) that solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy and b) the United States is one of 35 nations that have “decoupled” carbon pollution from GDP. In other words, our economy has continued growing while carbon pollution is dropping. More than 30 U.S. states have decoupled, too.

What’s legitimately alarming is that record weather disasters, along with the tremendous human misery, deaths and destruction they cause, are becoming routine. Nine of the 10 hottest days ever recorded in the United States have taken place in the last 10 years. During the last decade, up to last Sept. 1 — before Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Nate, and Maria or the latest California wildfires — there were 91 billion-dollar disasters in the United States with total damages exceeding $400 billion and total deaths reaching nearly 2,100. Does it not seem prudent to reduce and eventually eliminate the carbon pollution that so much science says is responsible for the climate changes we are experiencing right now? No matter what other principles climate skeptics may or may not have, can’t they at least embrace the precautionary principle?

One of the ironies of the last election was that 19 of the 20 states that are least safe from natural disasters voted Republican. They are not going to get any safer with the President and Congress they chose. Speaking for alarmists everywhere, we would be happy to see all 20 join our club. Their representatives in Congress, too.

In short, we climate-change alarmists should wear the label proudly. To paraphrase a certain poet, we don’t need more catastrophes to know which way the wind blows.

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