Street Corner Soapbox: Time to Move On

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion    Environment
Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 at 6:55 AM

The White House recently released its National Climate Assessment, its report on the impact of climate change on the U.S. and the expected outcome if climate change goes unchecked. It's grim.

And you know what? It's time to move on. It's time to recognize that there's no “debate” on climate change, only misinformation. The real opposition to climate change policy isn't legitimate, science-based doubt – it's greed, complacency, and ignorance. It's time to leave the naysayers behind and to do something to save us all from our own foolishness.

The White House assessment confirmed a lot of what we already knew: climate change isn't a theory or speculative future event – it's here, it's now. We see it all around us.

On Lake Erie, for example, climate change leads to bigger, worse toxic algae blooms. Climate change increases the frequency and likelihood of extreme weather events – including the recent prevalence of sudden, harsh spring storms in the region, which cause agricultural runoff into the lake, providing the phosphates – the food – that the algae thrives on. Climate change also causes the lake water to warm quicker and hotter, providing the optimal temperature for the algae.

Climate change also changes the environment around us. Warmer temperatures in winter lead to changing ecosystem conditions. Spring comes earlier, summer leaves later, extending growing and feeding seasons and opening the ecosystem to a wider variety of insects and plants, and animals never seen in an environment before become commonplace, and native species vanish. Imagine, say, a Lake Erie with zebra mussels, but no yellow perch or walleye.

That same extension of warmer seasons contributes to wildfires in the West. Mountain snowpack melts a week or two earlier than usual, giving the grasses extra time to bake in the summer sun, creating ideal conditions for severe, hot and fast-moving fires that kill firefighters – like, say, last summer's Yarnell blaze in Arizona, which took the lives of 19.

Climate change can also make seasonal temperatures colder. That's because it disrupts airstream currents, knocking weather systems askew. Climate change creates the conditions, say, for midwinter polar air currents to break loose from the ice caps and lock regions in prolonged and unusual cold spells. Climate change also increases lake effect snow; the lakes freeze later, or with less coverage or not at all, allowing the air currents to warm over the water, scoop some up, and dump it on us as the front hits dry land.

And then there are the heat waves. Like, say, Europe's 2003 heat wave, which lasted two months and whose temperatures spiked to 105 F. It was the hottest summer in over 500 years of records, and some 70,000 lost their lives to the heat. Not every year will see record temperatures, but, like with storms, the frequency at which extreme heat will occur is increasing.

All of these things happen now, and they have real and negative effects on our lives. Besides the obvious – the storm damage, the victims of sub-zero temperatures or prolonged heat waves – there are a myriad of other effects. Climate change increases pollen count and ozone levels and worsens respiratory illnesses. Climate changes causes variability in rainfall and causes drought. Other places will see floods – and the increase of mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses like the West Nile virus. Like invasive species following warmer ecosystems, disease, too, increases its geographic range.

And by most models, we're just beginning to see the effects of climate change in action. As the climate warms, predict many scientists, there'll be a kind of domino effect of unleashed carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As the climate warms, more forests will burn, releasing more carbon. As the climate warms, arctic permafrost will melt, releasing methane – another greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere. Where it stops – if it stops – no one knows. No one knows what our fate – the fate of the human species – will be. What's certain is that bad things will happen.

We must stop burning fossil fuel.

So. How does the political right in the U.S. react to the national climate change assessment?

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” said Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. The conservative think tank, the Cato Institute, tells us to focus on the positives of climate change. Like, say, how humans will probably develop heat resistance because of it. An all-star Fox News panel that included George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer concluded all of science is wrong.

Which explains why the only significant action taken against climate change during the Obama presidency was a recent tweak to EPA rules, allowing that agency to regulate the emission of greenhouse gasses from coal plants. That rule change was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, too. Everything else has been blocked by Republicans like Senator James Inhofe, the minority chair of the Environment and Public Works committee, who wrote a book claiming climate change is a hoax because the Bible refutes it, that it's “laughable.”

The only thing laughable about climate change today are fools like Senator Inhofe and those who stock Fox News panels, is the pervasive doubt in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, are the media reports that “balance” climate change with conspiracy theory, and the inaction on the issue despite an overwhelming majority of Americans who think that climate change is real, happening, and needs to be addressed.

A less-heralded report mentioning climate change was released this spring by the Department of Defense. That's the Quadrennial Defense Review, a report on vulnerabilities in national security. Among them was climate change. “Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large,” read the report. “As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating."

If the Pentagon sees climate change as a national security risk, we should, too.

Jay Stevens can be contacted at, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj.

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