SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 26, 2013

Column: Climate-change warning grows in urgency

Ann McFeatters
The Salem News

---- — If life were a movie, this is the part where the hero and heroine realize their worst nightmare is coming true: The entire earth is being threatened with disaster.

Some time ago, scientists changed the name of the phenomenon of “global warming” to “climate change” as a more accurate description of what is happening because of man-made damage to the ozone layer. Some areas are getting hotter, with more severe droughts and forest fires as glaciers melt, but some areas are getting colder, with increasingly extreme and damaging weather patterns, hurricanes and tornadoes.

The latest news is that an international body of several hundred top scientists has determined that sea levels could rise by more than 3 feet if carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels continue at current rates.

In other words, if you still believe climate change is not a serious danger to humanity, you’re denying reality. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and the Republican chairman of the House environmental subcommittee don’t know what they’re talking about when they insist the United States has no responsibility to do something about climate change.

Recently, four former heads of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, all of whom served under Republican presidents, pleaded for action in The New York Times: “The United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change at home and internationally. There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts: Our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere.”

Perhaps this was their most chilling statement: “The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”

In June, President Barack Obama gave an impassioned speech urgently laying out the scope of the problem. He begged Congress for action. He said he’ll use his executive powers to try to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and reduce dangerous levels of hydrofluorocarbons, which warm the atmosphere. The Republican leadership in Congress scoffed.

One cringe-inducing argument made on the floor of the House holds that since humans breathe out carbon dioxide, it must be good for the climate and is nothing to worry about. And we used to be known for our interest in science!

Some Republicans argue that God made the planet and won’t permit an apocalypse. Such arguments ignore man’s creation — and use — of nuclear weapons. Man created chemical weapons and is using them today, in the 21st century, to kill hundreds of innocent men, women and children.

One of Obama’s proposals is a carbon tax, which would offset years of billions of dollars in subsidies to energy companies that have increased carbon dioxide levels by massive amounts. But such a tax is not remotely possible in today’s poisonous atmosphere in Washington.

Future generations, living in increasing fear and jeopardy from extreme climate conditions, will pull their hair in frustration and anger — the United States knew of the danger for decades and did nothing. Those generations will marvel at our years of pointless debates as we ignored mountains of evidence that the earth was in danger.

The argument against action many Republican leaders in Congress make is that this is a global problem. Thus, if countries such as China and India, trying to catch up with the U.S. economically, don’t curtail their emissions, why should we? This is such a weak, immoral, sophomoric position — everybody else is doing it — that one shudders at the stupidity.

The four former EPA administrators — William Ruckelshaus, Christine Todd Whitman, Lee Thomas and William Reilly — wrote: “We can have both a strong economy and a livable climate. All parties know that we need both. The rest of the discussion is either detail, which we can resolve, or purposeful delay, which we should not tolerate.”

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.