The world has very little time — perhaps 15 years — to make serious inroads on climate change, according to a leaked report from a United Nations panel. Current efforts, even among the most committed nations, fall short, and at the current rate of carbon emissions, the problem might grow too large to overcome with existing technology.
Yet the recalcitrance and myth-making about global warming continue — and become more prevalent — in the United States. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to employ a little-known law to try to halt a key portion of the Obama administration's climate plan. And at a Senate committee hearing on climate change, Republican senators delivered their usual speeches denying that a problem exists. There was recently cold weather in the Northeast, they argued. And New Orleans hasn't seen particularly bad hurricanes during the last few years. If anything is to be done about climate change, several of them hinted or said outright, it must be accomplished without taking away jobs or driving up electricity bills.
Underlying many of the misperceptions about global warming is the myth that climate — a long-term trend — is the same thing as isolated weather events. After a cold winter last year, the number of believers in climate change in this country dropped from 70% to 63%, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Its most recent poll results, released last week, found that the number of people who don't believe that climate change is occurring climbed from 16% to 23% from April to November. And that poll was conducted before the polar vortex descended this winter.
Meanwhile, McConnell — a Republican from the coal-mining state of Kentucky — filed a resolution to "disapprove" the Environmental Protection Agency's preliminary new limits on carbon emissions from new coal plants. His action invoked the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that has been used only once or twice. It allows Congress to repeal an executive branch regulation by a simple majority vote. The resolution's prospects are uncertain, but its political intentions are clear: Democrats would have to vote on this shortly before the November elections, possibly turning off voters who fear the economic impacts.
It would be misleading to suggest that there will be no sacrifice involved in reducing carbon emissions. Yet, according to the leaked report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the cost of waiting will be greater and the options more limited. There can be no more pretending that an Arctic-style winter in Chicago means that climate change is not a problem.