Of all the ways the strident wackiness of the Republican Party is harming our country, the absolute worst is the obstinate, willfully ignorant refusal of GOP leaders to deal with the biggest existential threat facing the United States: climate change.
Tuesday was the release date of a congressionally mandated status report on the effects of climate change written by more than 240 scientists, businesspeople and a range of other experts. It details for every region of the country the negative effects already being experienced due to global warming.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” states the report, officially known as the National Climate Assessment. “Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of our recent experience.”
The report goes further than ever before in asserting that more frequent floods, huge wildfires sweeping across the tinder-dry West, new infestations of insects in forests and the drought that is turning crop land and grazing areas to desert from California to Texas are happening not as part of some normal cycle, but because human activity -- primarily the burning of fossil fuels -- is overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, driving up global temperatures and rapidly altering the Earth’s climate and weather.
On the coasts, sea levels are rising as the polar ice melts. In coming years, beaches will disappear and low-lying cities will be flooded. And, in the Pacific Ocean, the scariest and least noted development is increased CO2 levels that are making the water more acidic, threatening to kill off entire species.
At a minimum, local, state and national governments need to prepare for the impact climate change will have on infrastructure, the environment and the economy. And, beyond planning for that nasty stuff, truly wise leaders would be taking steps to curb carbon emissions so that a very bad situation does not become an utter calamity.
But don’t look for those leaders among Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the climate assessment was just another excuse for President Obama to impose a tax on energy. “And I’m sure he’ll get loud cheers from liberal elites -- from the kind of people who leave a giant carbon footprint and then lecture everybody else about low-flow toilets.”
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, a virulent critic of climate scientists, was apparently sharing a talking-points memo with McConnell when he said, “With this report the president is attempting to once again distract Americans from his unchecked regulatory agenda that is costing our nation millions of job opportunities and our ability to be energy independent."
Translation of the comments of both senators: Do not impinge on the profits of the coal and oil extractors in our respective home states. McConnell rails against “elites,” but, of course, he does everything to protect his favored elites in the fossil-fuel-based energy industries while condemning farmers, ranchers, fishermen, timber workers and all the small businesses connected to their activities to a scorched-earth future.
Along with the Republican servants of oil and coal, there are those who serve a constituency with a medieval mindset. Minnesota’s Rep. Michele Bachmann and a large cohort of the House Republican caucus are in harmony with a narrow but fervent sector of the Christian community that believes science is a tool of the devil and that droughts and floods and wildfires are just punishments sent by God.
There is nary a House Republican who accepts that climate change is a product of human activity and blessed few with that level of enlightenment among GOP senators. For now, even as the oceans turn to acid and our land burns and bakes, the last place to look for leadership is among the confederacy of dunces that is today’s Republican Party.