, Salem, MA


October 6, 2012

Column: We ignore the environment at our peril


If climate change continues to raise sea temperatures and levels, and cause icebergs to melt at their present rate, in a few decades our economy is not going to matter much.

The United Nations coined the term “environmental refugee” more than a decade ago to describe people displaced from their homes and villages because of storms and desertification caused by climate change.

Last year, the New York Times’ Green blog reported:

“In 2010, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that more than 42 million people ‘were forced to flee due to disasters triggered by sudden-onset natural hazards,’ the United Nations report said. In 2009, 17 million people were displaced by such disasters, it said, and in 2008, 36 million.”

We in the U.S. are lucky to have a strong economy so that people displaced by Katrina and other natural disasters eventually find new homes and new jobs. But if lower Manhattan were flooded, even our strong economy could not overcome the possible displacement of millions of people (and their jobs).

Meanwhile our politicians dither. Neither presidential candidate offers much by way of hope on the environment. Romney seems to care not at all about it. And President Obama has done little to protect the environment so far, unless you count a feckless attempt to throw some of the recovery money in the direction of renewable energy companies.

Our politicians won’t get active on this issue until the voters demand it. Voters are understandably more concerned about their problems today (to wit, finding work). But if they don’t start looking they risk being blindsided by the most important issue of all.


Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.

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