Fun fact: Ostriches do not really stick their heads in the sand when threatened.
However, there is a prominent species that does bury their heads in order to ignore signs of danger. That species is known as politico ignoramus. While their numbers were reduced last Nov. 6, they are, unfortunately, still far from endangered.
These willfully ignorant politicians are ignoring the harm that climate disruption is already causing and the much greater harm that global warming will cause in the future.
Recent cataclysmic natural disasters, notably massive wildfires and storms of unprecedented ferocity, show us the devastation that climate disruption is already causing. A new report from federal agencies warns of the disastrous impact climate disruption will have in the future.
This year, forest fires, hurricanes and storms of great strength and destructiveness have come with unprecedented frequency. Hurricanes have caused record-breaking flooding in the South. Fire after fire has ravaged the West.
In Wisconsin, a series of monster storms caused widespread flooding this summer. In Dane County, an August storm broke all records, dumping 11 inches in just four hours. The frequency of this year’s storms is part of a striking trend. There’s been a 37 percent increase in precipitation from heavy rain events in the Midwest.
Strong summer storms and hurricanes are not new. What is new is the severity and their frequency. Scientists have concluded that global warming is to blame. For example, Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas earlier this year, dumped 50 percent more rain than it would have without climate change. This is happening because weather systems are stalling. The Arctic region is warming at twice the global average. A warmer Arctic reduces the strength of the polar jet stream, which allows weather systems to stall. Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.
Stalled weather systems have also led to extreme fire conditions in Western states, especially California. A NASA study found that fire seasons are getting 25 percent longer due to climate change. The U.S. Forest Service calls “longer fire seasons, bigger fires and more acres burned on average each year” the new “norm.”
The future consequences of the climate crisis are even grimmer. Last month, an exhaustive federal study warned that climate change will dramatically impact our country, imposing massive economic costs. The Fourth National Climate Assessment was the result of multiyear research by more than 300 scientists and was reviewed by 13 federal agencies. The massive report concludes that climate change could eventually cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The report doesn’t pull punches: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”
The report estimates that about 92 percent of climate change can be attributed to the harmful effects of human actions and the effects of climate change could slash our future national economy by 10 percent.
Donald Trump and most Republican politicians are ignoring the current devastating consequences of the climate crisis and dismissing the federal report. In fact, the Trump administration is pursuing policies that will worsen global warming, including rolling back limits on vehicle and power plant emissions, giving preference to oil and coal over clean energy and pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord.
Unlike ostriches, which don’t bury their heads to ignore danger, Republican politicians keep their heads firmly buried in campaign contributions from the oil and coal industry and continue to disregard the danger posed by the climate crisis.
Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.
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