Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Electing climate change skeptics as climate changes

Just as climate science becomes more and more irrefutable and precise, this state managed to put a confessed climate change skeptic into the Senate, and more than a few into various state and federal offices. This morning, the impacts of climate change on this state are on the front page of the Journal Sentinel.  A new study shows that temperatures across the state will rise by 6-7 degrees Fahrenheit by the middle of the century. The economic impacts will be huge and very disruptive.

Of course, they are reporting on actual scientific studies rather than politics or the economics of industrial growth, so who will we believe? Indications are not favorable to science.

How did we ever manage to create a culture in which scientific knowledge would he held in such doubt? What happened to us? What happened to the era in which I grew up, and in my case in Catholic schools with nuns who really cared about whether or not we learned, an era of such wonder and horror, from the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo missions to the nuclear bomb? Where is the Hubble Space Telescope's vast fan base - and was there ever a more wonderful scientific instrument than this marvel - when it comes to asserting the primacy of knowledge and careful research over politics and the corporate bottom line?

Cladophora algae bloom, Lk. Michigan beach
Many of us do not want to believe that the individual things we do, the choices we make, are actually weighted with something as large as climate change or the breakdown of key ecosystems, threatening our very survival. It is interesting to me that we rage on and on about how fiscal deficits threaten the future of our children but get all upset when science suggests a far greater threat to their future than anything on the fiscal or economic agenda.

A deep-seated culture of leave-me-alone, I'm-not-responsible-for-anyone-else, individualism has not served us well. And it is certainly not preparing us for the future - not a far off future, but imminent, the middle age of our children growing up today - that is described in the study by UW-Madison scientists.

Problem is, once the experience of climate chaos becomes overwhelmingly obvious, washing over the arguments of the skeptics, it will be too late to avoid catastrophe. We will be adapting under great duress. If you think jobs and a future economy are being threatened by those who want to address climate change and other extreme environmental threats, wait till you see what happens to our employment prospects as this climate scenario unfolds.

We need a politics that matches the real world of this planet, not the ideologues whose only program is to cut taxes. Okay, and then what?

Photo credit: Milwaukee Riverkeeper

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