Climate change is the most pressing issue of our times because it is an order of emergency unlike other societal and economic crises through which we can find our way. Climate change will happen on its own timeline, through any course of action that fits recorded history. While we are powerless to influence changes we -- in the Western, industrialized world -- set in motion, it is tragic to imagine we can do nothing, through government intervention, to eventually reverse the accumulation of man-made gasses tied to fossil fuel consumption.
In the GOP rebuttal to President Obama's state of the union speech, Florida senator Marco Rubio delivered up another of his one paragraph memorization standards on climate change. Then, he told Fox News:
The government can’t change the weather. I said that in the speech. We can pass a bunch of laws that will destroy our economy, but it isn’t going to change the weather. Because, for example, there are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are at this point, China, India, all these countries that are still growing. They’re not going to stop doing what they’re doing. America is a country, it’s not a planet. So we can pass a bunch of laws or executive orders that will do nothing to change the climate or the weather but will devastate our economy.The logic Rubio offers is so light weight, it floats away on its own. Let's start here: yes, China and India are severely polluted. I returned from a month in Asia recently and witnessed rampant pollution coating the Asian subcontinent. It is shameful. Alarming. It portends of deep trouble ahead for a planet overburdened with the needs of growing populations. The kind of trouble that should instantly galvanize a leader like the United States. We are leaders, aren't we?
On the one hand Senator Rubio exalts America as the Shining City on the Hill -- rationalizing wars and foreign interventions to spread democracy -- but wouldn't a Shining City on the Hill do everything in its power to also spread economic stability, through rational reform of energy consumption and massive emphasis on conservation? That is, after all, where Senator Rubio plants his flag: protect our economy!
Since democracy can't thrive without economic stability -- why would conservatives misrepresent the risk associated with global warming?
Rubio's fall back -- that government should do nothing because it will do nothing to change the climate -- holds no air either. Government policies subsidizing pollution and carbon fuels are what created changes in the climate. If China and India are now adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the United States has cumulatively added much more than even these two quickly growing nations combined.
If Senator Rubio believed in American leadership and worried about "devastating our economy", he would think through the implications of a severe chronic drought on food supplies here and abroad. How's that for economic devastation? (The point is, Rubio on his own -- separate from his army of advisors including Jeb! -- cannot think aloud beyond sound bites memorized for Fox News.)
Rubio clings to fanciful "doubt" on science -- positions, by the way, that are funded by polluters and some of his biggest campaign contributors. (On the issue of "proof", consider the recent lecture (link, below) by writer Malcolm Gladwell.)
Does the GOP honestly believe that citizens of the nation's breadbaskets will just pick up and move latitudes north, and everyone in the desert behind will just have to tough it out themselves? (This is, by the way, already happening to Republican stalwarts in midwestern states that once relied on the now exhausted Ogallala aquifer for irrigation. To be cynical, one could imagine the GOP logic denying government action to protect the environment: they don't live there, don't vote there, and so they don't matter any more. Discard them.)
Long ago, then Sierra Club director Carl Pope made the point that the radical right -- through climate change denial -- is selecting "winners" from "losers". Senator Rubio believes government just do nothing on climate change. It is a patent hopelessness that defaults to knee jerk nationalism and Dollar Value politics.
Sir Nicholas Stern said that climate change is "the greatest market failure the world has ever seen". And those US Senators who embrace denial are our greatest failures.
Here is the lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, writer Malcolm Gladwell who asks, "How much proof do we need about the harmfulness of something before we act?"
It is a great question to ask of the radical right. Gladwell starts with the story of black-lung disease and the denial of tragic health impacts over decades by large corporations that profited from human suffering.
There are a dizzying array of issues where progress is being held back by claims against "proof". Global warming and climate change fits right there. Think about it, if you watch the New Yorker and Gladwell's: "How much proof is enough?" Pick up Gladwell, if you only have a limited time to watch, at minute 7:40.