Democrat or Republican, farmer or urban dweller -- no one can deny that California is facing one of its worst droughts in recorded history. Yet, like most issues today in our dysfunctional Congress, addressing the drought and the larger issue of climate change has become a political battle rather than a collective effort.
Earlier this year, the House took up what could have been a rare bipartisan calling -- how can we respond to a drought that is impacting millions? But instead of crafting a measure that could gain bipartisan support and address the problem in a meaningful way, House Republicans opted for a divisive approach that was bound to fail, pitting farmers against fishermen, urban against rural, central against the coast.
Governor Jerry Brown, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and most of the California congressional delegation rejected the approach. As Governor Brown described it, the partisan bill was "an unwelcome and divisive intrusion into California's efforts to manage this severe crisis."
The challenge in crafting a long-term solution to the drought is that it requires us to confront the broader problem of climate change, and for many involved in the issue, climate change is a mirage. As the Republican author of the House bill opined during the debate:
"Despite dire predictions and prophetic warnings contained in a host of poorly researched Hollywood productions, there is no proof that our planet is warming because of mankind and there is certainly no proof that any of the radical changes proposed by environmentalists will end recent warming trends."
Of course, the evidence is precisely the contrary. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are due to human activities. They have predicted that climate change would increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (like droughts), and we have already begun to see this happen. The more we ignore the obvious, the more our climate will warm, causing widespread consequences that ripple across the globe.
While it is true that we cannot state that climate change has caused a particular drought, we must accept, at the very least, that human activities will significantly increase the prevalence of all droughts. According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, human activities have already doubled the probability of extreme heat events.
There are many near-term steps that must be taken to address the most pressing water shortages -- including conservation, reclamation, recyling, water storage, and better conveyance -- but unless we address the broader phenomenon of climate change these fixes will amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs of a disaster. Without a comprehensive approach to climate change, extreme weather events will become more severe and more frequent, and many natural occurrences, like wildfires, will be more catastrophic. In fact, it is estimated that as climate change continues, fires in California will increase by more than 70 percent by the end of the century.
California is a powerhouse agricultural producer -- often called the bread basket of the world -- and much of the produce the country eats each day was grown in the Golden State. The current extreme drought is already inhibiting farmers' harvest and this will only worsen as the drought continues, raising food prices across the nation and threatening our food security. U.C. Davis has estimated that this year alone, the agricultural sector will lose $2.2 billion and over 17,000 jobs because of the drought.
Regrettably, far from moving forward with legislation to address climate change, the House has been moving backward -- passing partisan bills which gut regulations and restrictions on greenhouse gases under the guise of economic stimulus. What's more, some are even using the drought as an excuse to forgo environmental regulations all together, tendencies which will only worsen the problem. We don't doubt science when it comes to medicine, plate tectonics, or physics, so why do we doubt climatologists?
Denying the consequences of our impact on climate change will only bequeath the next generation a less habitable, more violently-conflicted world. It's time to stop perpetuating short-sighted policies, and recognize that in order to provide our children with a climate and an economy that will allow them to prosper, we must not leave them with a world that we have damaged beyond repair.
This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus is comprised of 39 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.