On Oct. 13, the Centre Daily Times printed a prediction of what the United States would look like under presidencies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Yet, the comparison omitted the most important issue of our time — their policies on climate change. Similarly, no climate change questions were asked at the presidential and vice presidential debates. Climate change will affect our future and our children’s future more significantly than gun control, abortion, trade deals, the Islamic State, taxes or even the honesty or sexual behavior of the two candidates.
Global warming will cause droughts in much of America’s bread basket and in agricultural areas throughout the world. It will cause more severe storm damage. It will cause sea level rise, which will inundate coastal regions in the United States and throughout the world, and that will cause refugee problems many times greater than those caused by current Middle Eastern wars. Protecting our coastal urban areas against sea level rise will cost billions if not trillions of dollars. Global warming will cause species extinctions on a scale not seen in the past 65 million years. It is already causing acidification of our oceans, which dramatically decreases their ability to provide food for mankind. It is already causing the spread of diseases such as malaria and the Zika virus. It will cause heat stress to vulnerable people.
There are many reasons why we as a nation are so unwilling to confront this inconvenient truth:
▪ Mitigating and adapting to climate change is expensive and will necessarily involve large-scale government action, meaning higher taxes.
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▪ In our polarized political environment, if President Obama tries to rein in climate change, the Republicans will automatically take the opposite position.
▪ The fossil fuel industry spends billions of dollars fighting against climate change mitigation. They fund public relations efforts that spuriously reject the sound science behind the climate change theory, and they financially support the political campaigns of climate deniers.
▪ Conservatives, by nature and definition, resist change, especially lifestyle changes. It is a hard pill to swallow to admit that our day-to-day activities — driving our cars, heating our homes, eating hamburgers — affect the health of our planet.
▪ Because congressmen are elected on two-, four- and six-year cycles, they only address short-term issues that affect their electability; climate change is long term, measured in decades and centuries.
▪ Climate change does not have a specific constituency, because it affects all of us. By comparison, gun owners rally behind the Second Amendment; cancer survivors and their families join in the pink movement.
▪ Because climate change is gradual, it lacks the immediacy necessary to make it seem like a crisis. Yet, on a geologic scale, the current rate of change is unprecedented.
Denial won’t make climate change go away. This is not a political issue. It is a scientific and survival issue. It’s time to pull our heads out of the sands. This is the single most important issue to consider when you vote on Tuesday.
Katherine Alden, Michele Barbin, Ernest Boyd, Steven Lachman and Sean Robinson constitute the executive committee of the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club.