Nel's New Day

April 7, 2014

Ryan, Conservatives Support Increased Climate Change

Last summer thousands of king salmon in Alaska died because the hot, dry weather that broke heat records. Maine commercial lobster catchers are losing money because massive crops are bringing down prices. The industry is still reeling from the bacterial shell disease that destroyed 80 percent of the stock off Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts in 1999. Dr. Robert Steneck, University of Maine, called this “an ecosystem way out of balance.”

The 2012 drought that covered 80 percent of the United States raised feed prices to a record high, making meat prices much higher. Last year, the “severe drought” in 67 percent of Texas, the biggest cattle-producing state, was up from 33 percent the year before.  These are all effects of climate change that are hurting the United States right now.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new budget would make the disasters worse:

  • Blocks environmental regulation, especially EPA’s plan to regulate CO2 from coal-fired power plants. Expands fossil fuel use, calling for legislation that Ryan claims is caught up in “complicated bureaucratic approval processes”—most likely the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Defunds environmental programs by curtailing domestic discretionary spending, including spending for public lands and conservation programs.
  • Reduces investment in transportation and infrastructure because he thinks that greater fuel efficiency has contributed to the deficit through less taxes.
  • Distributes money to Big Oil.

Ryan’s budget came out at about the same time as the second of four planned reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: a summary of “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” The cautious report should cause terror although it omits the potential catastrophic impact of the planet warming from 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, there are few studies in this area because climate scientists thought, until recently, that people would try to slow down the disastrous climate change. It’s not happening.

climate

[Left – warming based on the report and taking action; right – levels of nine degrees over much of the United States.]

According to the report, impacts of climate change are likely to be “severe, pervasive, and irreversible.”

  • We’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change: shrinking glaciers that change river courses and water supplies; shifting ranges and behavior of species from grizzly bears to flowers; drops in wheat and maize yields.
  • Heat waves, wildfires, and coastal flooding are major threats in North America, causing death and damage to ecosystems and property. Athletes and outdoor workers are especially at risk. Europe faces freshwater shortages; and Asia should expect more severe flooding from extreme storms.
  • Food sources will become unpredictable, particularly with a booming population. Lower crop production leads to increased malnutrition, already affecting nearly 900 million people. Maize, wheat, and rice are at risk, and the ocean will be a less reliable source of food as important fish resources in the tropics either move north or go extinct. Ocean acidification will eat away at shelled food sources such as oysters. Lower supplies and higher prices increase food insecurity and social tensions, leading to conflict.
  • Flooding and erosion will increase in coastal communities, erasing metropolitan areas, military installations, farming regions, small island nations, and other ocean-side places. Damage from hurricanes and other extreme storms will also bring risks of “death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods.”
  • People will become less healthy: heat waves and fires cause injury, disease and death; decreased food production means more malnutrition; and food- and water-borne diseases make more people sick.
  • Climate change means a need for more money.
  • An increase of climate refugees and climate-related violence can increase civil wars and international conflicts through additional poverty and competition for resources.
  • Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change because it harms assets that can help adaptation such as infrastructure, institution, natural resources, and livelihood.

The last two put together are terrifying. Climate change will cause conflicts, and conflicts will cause climate change. 

People can still reduce global warming by cutting emissions, but cable reporting is not likely to help people understand that even low levels of climate change will cause “breakdown of food systems” and “violent conflict.” CNN gave the report one minute and eight seconds in two segments. In comparison, people watching MSNBC could see 19 minutes and 49 seconds. Almost all the five minutes on Fox attacked the idea of studying climate change with no idea what the report contained:

  • “[It’s] alright for you to exhale without paying tax to the United Nations.”—Claudia Rosett on Neiil Cavuto’s program. The journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies recommended “doing things to stop North Korea.
  • Bill O’Reilly accused climate change activists of wanting to “destroy [the] economy or allow villains like Putin to blackmail with his fossil fuels” based on a “phantom global warming theory” when “no one knows whether it’s true.”

Stephen Colbert had more about the report than either Fox or CNN, and Jon Stewart had a ten-minute rant in January. Young people watch The Colbert Report and The Daily Show; maybe there is hope for them.

Last week, the U.S. House tried to stop study of climate change by passing a funding bill to improve forecasts of “high impact weather events” like tornadoes and hurricanes “for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” The House hasn’t passed a major weather-related bill in 22 years, and tornadoes are eminent. Yet these events are killing fewer people, frequently because they cannot afford better-built homes. There was no mention of increasing lower-profile weather and climate disasters that kill far more people every year. Heat waves now kill more people in the U.S. than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. Weather-related accidents kill 6,000 people per year—10 times more than heat waves do.

causes of death climate

The U.N. report probably won’t make any difference. As Andy Dessler, professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, said, “If people are persuaded by evidence, they would have been persuaded long ago.” Conservatives blame President Obama because he can’t force GOP members of Congress to believe in climate change. An article in The Hill stated, “The skepticism of Republicans is exacerbated when Democratic lawmakers and Obama push for new regulations, such as the push for stricter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.” The conservative take is that corporations and conservatives would magically do something about climate change if there were no regulations.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said the polarization over climate change is far more pronounced in Congress than in the country as a whole. In the U.S. 83 percent of the people think that the country should do something about climate change even if it costs more money. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers continue their vocal disbelief about climate change to keep getting millions of dollars from corporations for their campaigns.

Bridenstein should heed the words of Dr. Kevin Trenberth, former head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research:

“It is irresponsible not to mention climate change in stories that presume to say something about why all these storms and tornadoes are happening. The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). Tornadoes come from thunderstorms in a wind shear environment. … The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere.”

Emissions could be reduced by taxing carbons, but Ryan’s budget pays corporation to produce carbons. Corporate taxes of $25 per metric ton of carbon could reduce emissions by 10 percent while increasing federal revenues by $1 trillion. U.S. taxpayers provide carbon producers with $4 billion a year, making this country the largest single source of fossil-fuel subsidies.  Eliminating these subsidies world-wide could cut carbon emissions by 13 percent. The U.S. could control carbon production in other countries by levying taxes on imported goods imported from other countries.

We can make a difference by reinstating tax credit for wind energy, revamping public-utility laws to reward energy efficiency, and rewriting building codes to cut emissions from buildings. Under President Obama, the EPA has published rules governing emissions from new power plants, prohibiting new coal-burning plants. More plans include fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles such as tractor-trailers and emissions limits on existing power plants. It’s a start, but we need to push for more.

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