The consensus of public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans believe that climate change is real and occurring now. Also, more Americans believe that than did five years ago.
Successive polls also indicate that most Americans believe that climate change — or global warming, if you prefer — is becoming more of a threat to our way of life, that human activity is a key if not dominant factor in it and that it will continue unless considerable, even drastic, steps are taken to slow, stop or reverse it.
Not surprisingly, polls do show that liberals and moderates are more convinced of this than conservatives, yet a growing majority of conservatives also believe that climate change needs to be dealt with.
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies don’t need convincing. In a report issued in January, the Pentagon said “the effects of climate change are a national security issue.”
In a separate Worldwide Threat Assessment, also issued this year, the U.S. intelligence community said, “Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.”
All of this is because scientists worldwide and in virtually every discipline have sounded warnings year after year in an effort to galvanize support to save the planet, its people and other living things.
They’ve studied the climate for decades, and their collective agenda is to prevent warming mostly associated with fossil fuels from making Earth climate unlivable.
These scientists won’t blame a hurricane or a drought or a flood on climate change; those are weather events. But when warming changes our climate, as it is doing, droughts and heat waves become more severe and last longer, warming seas spawn more powerful hurricanes, and rising seas threaten untold millions of people who live on or near coasts.
The Paris Climate Agreement, though flawed, represented the world’s acknowledgment of the problem and desire to confront it. It was supported by 190 nations, including the United States.
Unfortunately, perhaps even tragically, U.S. support did not extend to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or many other Republican lawmakers. Worse, one of President Donald Trump’s early actions was to withdraw U.S. participation from the Paris climate agreement, an action that undermined the agreement and discredited the United States internationally.
Republican opposition to that agreement and almost complete denial of climate change and the threat it poses to our country and our planet continues to thwart domestic efforts to combat it.
Many opponents simply reject the science behind it and dismiss the entire notion as something approaching a Democratic plot to spread socialism in this country. Earlier this month, Sen. Ted Cruz ridiculed former Rep. Beto O’Rourke for saying his 8-year-old son feared the family would not be able to live in El Paso in the near future because it “would not sustain human life unless something dramatic changes” with climate change.
Cruz’s oh-so-snarky response was a tweet containing a photo of Kevin Costner in the movie “Waterworld” and the words “Beto next year in El Paso.”
We ought to hope that’s just partisan politics, because surely Cruz knows better. El Paso won’t likely resemble the seas in “Waterworld” in our lifetimes or in O’Rourke’s son’s lifetime. But Cruz knows that ice sheets millennia old are melting on both poles, and as recent reports from Greenland indicate, the melting is accelerating, and that the inevitable outcome will be rising sea levels. Even a few inches could be catastrophic.
Rising sea levels present just one of the predicted calamities as the result of climate change in the decades ahead. And as expensive as societal changes to forestall global disasters will likely be in the next generation, the failure to act will almost certainly bring even greater costs in the form of inundated cities, barren farmland, greater starvation, widespread disease or violent conflict over dwindling resources.
Democratic presidential candidates offer competing solutions, some longer-term than others and some astonishingly expensive, to address the problems. But these individuals deserve credit, not derision, for at least bringing the scope of the problem and its costs into the open.
Should a Democrat defeat Trump in 2020, one of his or her first actions should be to rejoin the Paris agreement. Another should be to build a consensus involving the leaders of business, industry, agriculture, finance, science and other fields to meet the challenges climate change poses.
Climate change doesn’t threaten today’s adults. But if we cannot leave our children and grandchildren a better world than we were born into, we can at least leave them something better than a planet in ruins.
Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.