by Glenn Scherer
What a tumultuous year it’s been – a year of record weather disasters and environmental damage caused by our drive to extract more and more fossil fuels from the Earth.
2010 is on track to be the hottest year on record, with 17 countries setting all-time heat records. Drought-ravaged Russia burned and saw its wheat crop wrecked, while storm-deluged Pakistan drowned. Triple-digit heat scorched the U.S. Northeast, and freak killer storms swept Arkansas, Tennessee and the Heartland. The Arctic melted again at near record levels, and Greenland saw one glacier recede an entire mile in a single night.
The only thing quiet on the environmental front has been the political response to climate change. U.S. politicians – both Democrat and Republican – reacted to 2010’s upheavals with record-setting inaction. The Democratic Congressional majority shelved its climate change bill without a fight, and all of the Republican Senatorial candidates this fall stand opposed to significant climate change action. Indeed, most GOP candidates still deny the climate crisis is even happening – flying in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.
Alaska Republican Senatorial candidate Joe Miller says, “We haven’t heard there’s man-made global warming.” Florida GOP candidate Marco Rubio says, “I don’t think there’s the scientific evidence to justify it.” Kentucky GOP candidate Rand Paul accuses scientists of “making up their facts.” Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt says, “There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth.” And Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, up for re-election, calls climate science “malarkey.”
The tsunami of climate-change denial is also flooding governors’ races and state initiatives. California’s Proposition 23 – an effort to overthrow the state’s climate change emissions-control law – didn’t have a snowball’s chance of passing until it was funded to the tune of $8 million by out-of-state oil companies.
Meanwhile, millions worldwide have taken action, joining hands on October 10th in history’s biggest day of human protest. People – most of them young – gathered at 7,347 events in 188 countries to call on politicians to cut carbon emissions now. They planted trees, dug community gardens, placed solar panels and rallied as part of the Global Work Party, sending a clear message to our leaders: “If we can get to work, so can you!”
With midterm elections looming, this will be a year for each of us to decide who we trust: fossil fuel industry-funded politicians or the millions of young people working for the future that they will inherit.
For me, it’s an easy decision. I’ll put my faith in the Global Work Party kids who helped place a solar hot water installation atop Margaret’s house in Cape Town, South Africa, and the orphans in Bali who planted tropical trees. I’ll trust the young volunteers who painted urban rooftops white in Harlem, U.S.A., as the cheapest way to conserve energy and protect seniors against intensifying summer heat waves.
I’ll trust them knowing we are only at the beginning of our carbon troubles. That they clearly understand that the more CO2 we pump into the air, the higher the ecological and human stakes will become. We drill deeper offshore to find scarcer oil, pump more toxic chemicals into groundwater to extract natural gas, blow up more mountains to get at coal seams – the burning of which warms the planet even further.
It’s a perfect storm of human and natural harm – a storm that will only intensify. No amount of political spin will alter this reality or change the science. In coming years, scientists say we’ll see more killer tornadoes and Katrinas, more food crops and forests devastated by drought. Rising seas will likely produce millions of homeless eco-refugees, many wanting to come to the United States. And now comes word that even the seas may die. In July, scientists reported that global warming has likely caused phytoplankton levels to plummet 40 percent worldwide since the 1950s, threatening to unravel the ocean’s food chain.
Facing such grim possibilities, we have a choice. We can side with fossil fuel-backed politicians who deny and delay, and who would risk our children’s futures with business as usual. Or we can side with those working for a hopeful future, the young people who are reaching across national boundaries to work together for the sake of everyone.
We get to decide on November 2nd by picking leaders who acknowledge the threat of climate change, and are willing to face it. There are some worthy of a vote. To review your federal candidate’s position on climate change and the environment, go to the League of Conservation Voters (www.lcv.org).
And do yourself a favor. See the hopeful faces of the Global Work Party at www.350.org.
Glenn Scherer is a Blue Ridge Press editor. He lives in Montpelier, Vermont. To comment on this column go to www.blueridgepress.com ©BRP 2010.
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