Month 7, Day 17: Rightly Is They Called

There is a reason I use the tag “idiots” when I write to politicians.

Dear Senator McCaskill,

When you made an analogy between climate legislation and the half-century of work that laid the foundation for our recent health-care bill, you said the following: “I think it’s still a work in progress. You know, it took 50 years on health care…”

Which seems to imply that you think getting a climate bill passed could take fifty years, and that isn’t such a bad thing. And y’know what? In fact, we’ve got fifty years to get it done. Except for one thing: our fifty-year window of opportunity opened in 1960, when scientist Dave Keeling first developed a method of accurately measuring the carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. It was around that time that climatologists began to develop projections of the effects of global warming, and the idea started circulating that maybe, just maybe, this might not be a very good thing for all of us in the long term.

Nobody took them seriously enough to do anything. But if we’d started then, we could have made quite a difference. We could have headed off some of the most immediate problems, such as the likelihood that the next several decades will see a huge spike in the number of so-called “killer heat waves” affecting the American South-West (according to a new study from Purdue University scientists). Or the fact that temperatures in Lake Superior were recently measured at twenty degrees higher than normal for this time of year. Or the catastrophic loss of Arctic sea ice. Or the release of frozen methane on the Arctic seabed into the atmosphere. Or the acidification of the oceans, which threatens the food chain for easily a sixth of the world’s population.

But, as I said, nobody took the climatologists seriously. And the scientists kept making their discoveries over the ensuing decades, and time and time again the following things happened: scientific predictions came true, but were ignored; scientists made more predictions, and were ignored. Other nations began trying to integrate the burgeoning awareness of climate change into their policies; the United States refused. As George H.W. Bush said at the Rio Climate Conference in 1992, “The American way of life is not up for negotiation.”

Instead of listening to our scientists, we mocked them.

And now we’re at the end of that fifty-year window, and it’s closing rapidly in our faces. Are we going to advance genuine climate legislation, or are we going to offer our descendants a blighted future full of heat waves, water wars, catastrophic weather, and crippled agriculture?

We can’t take fifty years. We’ve already taken it.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

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