Monday, May 12, 2014

So much time lost, educating the public on climate change … by gimleteye

"Sea level rise is an urgent issue for coastal environmental planners for the very reason that it lacks urgency for directors of public works. If environmentalists do not lay the necessary paperwork today to institutionalize a gradual abandonment of the coastal plain as sea level rises, the public will almost certainly call upon engineers to protect their homes in the years to come."

That paragraph concludes a report authored EPA's James G. Titus, Office of Policy Analysis. It was published in 1991.

Twenty years ago, I recall the annual meeting of the Everglades Coalition and a scientist who staffed a lonely table on global warming and sea level rise. No one paid attention. Pah, was the general feeling: "We have Everglades restoration to worry about."

I first read Titus' report, "Greenhouse Effect of Sea Level Rise: The Cost of Holding Back the Sea", ten years after it was published. And when I did, I placed a call to Mr. Titus. The year was 2002.

The nation was not focused on climate change. Terrorists and 9/11 dominated public attention. And the economy. The main domestic policy consideration at the time was how to stimulate construction and housing to "rescue" the economy. There was an aspect to fueling the national boom in housing -- a goal whose political origins were planned in large respects right here, in Miami and South Florida -- that required attention of senior political appointees: how to limit the scope of government regulators charged with protecting the nation's environmental laws.

During the Bush White House years, the US EPA was the target of conservatives who had successfully deployed operatives within the agency. How those operatives suppressed global warming is a matter of public record.

I had a hard time getting through to Titus, and when I finally did, Titus was only allowed to speak with me -- a civilian -- so long as a public information officer participated in on the conversation. Needless to say, the point was to intimidate.

In the past decade, an enormous amount of excellent science has filled in, around Titus' 1991 warning. In just the past few weeks, with the release of the third National Climate Assessment by the Obama White House, additional attention has been called to threats to the nation's economy and in particular to the most vulnerable regions like South Florida.

Now, with political control of the US Senate in the balance this coming November, it bears remarking that on climate change issues the United States could actually slide backwards. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has refuse to meet with scientists, denies the human causes of climate change but stated, over the weekend, the latest position of the radical right: even if there is climate change, there is nothing we can do about it.

“I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate," Rubio said in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “Our climate is always changing."

Rubio is wrong. The weather is always changing. The climate is now changing in ways the planet last experienced long before the emergence of our own species.

Here is one indication of change. Until recently, the Miami Herald and the local public radio affiliate, WLRN, both ignored global warming (read our archives). On Sunday, CBS investigative reporter Jim DeFede sidled up to climate change with guests Broward County commissioner Kristin Jacobs and UM professor Harold Wanless. DeFede never paid much attention to the environment. It is notable when he does. One could see DeFede's mind at work as he wrapped up the half hour, along the lines that nature kept us out of Florida for a long time (meaning the heat and mosquitoes) and soon it is going to kick us out.

But it so, so much more than "nature kicking us out". If that happens, the pain and hardship are going to be unimaginable. That's what the mainstream media and reporters like DeFede need to drill down on, now, for the public because right wing extremists, like Marco Rubio, believe that reversing climate change is "too expensive for the economy".

Really? The costs of climate disruption tower over the future. A lot of time has been wasted because the United States failed to lead the world on global warming and reforming energy production and consumption.

Voters have a very clear choice: if the US Senate changes control and leadership passed to Big Coal's Mitch McConnell, the United States will be pointed back to the Dark Ages. I don't mean this, as a figure of speech.


Anonymous said...

Nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Deja vu all over again. In my day the battle was over lead and auto pollution. then it was smoking, now green-house gasses. all opposed using the same "scientific" paradigms.

Cosmos episode "The Clean Room" offers a great look at the backstory of this paradigm's origins. How an obscure scientist, Clair Patterson accidentally discovers then works for decades against GM, big oil and the brought-and-paid for industry scientist, Robert Kehoe to expose the use of lead additives in gas as a deadly public heath risk.

The heart of the Kehoe Paradigm then was that if it could be conclusively shown that tetraethyl lead was a public health danger, then of course the lead industry would stop. But then he would go on to argue that it wasn’t conclusive at all, yet — so the default response should be to allow industry to continue to profit until the consequences to public health were undeniable. And this neglect of responsibility was all neatly wrapped up in the claim that it was the “scientific” way of thinking — that somehow, science only deals with absolute truths and that you can’t draw scientific conclusions until every detail is knitted up with complete certainty.

Sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

However the administration's report is very political. The president want's to come down hard on the coal fired power plants. There is a very good chance the Senate will flip in the midterms and that will put Mitch McConnell (R-from coal rich Kentucky) as Senate majority leader. This report's timing is widely seen as giving the President a leg on which to act by executive action bypassing congressional approval.

Anonymous said...

Global warming's "New and Improved" packaging is now Climate Change.

No one is denying that the climate changes constantly. It is the anthropomorphic climate change theory that is absurd.

Gabe said...

I get so tired of hearing amateurs proclaiming anthropomorphic global warming to be a "theory". AGW is based on massive amounts of scientific observation that has been continuously verified down to the level of high school science classes as well as scientific climate measurements from both satellites and terrestrial basis around the world. Climate denial is a billion dollar industry with a long history within the corporate world to cast doubts on scientific findings that contradict their bottom line from the denial of the dangers of lead in gasoline, nicotine among others. People need to wake up and smell the pollution!

Anonymous said...

I am not an amateur.

Climate change is a billion dollar industry.