When the intensifying effect of climate change was brought into the news coverage of Hurricane Harvey, some conservatives objected. They said it was horrid that the "liberal media" was politicizing a disaster that had upended so many people's lives. Now, the same complaints will probably be raised in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Well, the climate change issue definitely has been politicized, but most of that exploitation for political purposes has been done by the fossil fuel industries, their mouthpieces in the right-wing media and their minions among Republican elected officials.
The dreadful force of Irma has slammed into Florida and one would think everyone could agree on some basic science. Warmer ocean temperatures have a multiplying effect on hurricanes that increases their energy and size. At the same time, the destructive potential of hurricane-propelled storm surges is made greater by the rise in sea level. This warmer, higher water is the direct result of a global climate that is getting hotter, year after year.
No, climate change is not the cause of hurricanes — nor wildfires, nor tornadoes — but, as scientists have predicted for some time now, swift alterations in our climate are magnifying the force of these natural events. In other words, there are worse disasters to come. That is not politics, that is science.
Yet, climate change deniers from President Trump to Rush Limbaugh to Florida Gov. Rick Scott choose to believe that climate science is some kind of evil plot concocted by the Chinese or by a cabal of nefarious researchers in lab coats who are trying to subvert capitalism, Christianity and Mom's apple pie. They choose to see things this way because propagandists backed by big corporations that profit immensely from maintaining the status quo have given them reasons to deny what is so apparent to leaders in every other country on the planet.
One of the reasons someone such as Scott chooses to think this way is that the special interests who bankroll his political career are pleased if he does. In Florida, the four biggest utilities — Duke Energy, Gulf Power, Florida Power & Light and Tampa Electric — have effectively blocked development of solar power in that sunny state by dumping millions of dollars into the campaigns of compliant politicians, including well over $1 million given to Scott.
Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones and other opinionated entertainers on the right push the narrative that acting to mitigate the human causes of climate change by switching to alternative energy sources would bring the American economy crashing down. They conveniently ignore the fact that, while jobs in the withering coal industry are disappearing, employment in solar and wind enterprises is booming. Already, the number of people working in clean energy in California, alone, is as many as 10 times the total number of coal mining jobs nationwide.
The vast majority of the world's scientists are convinced that industrial activity and the emission of greenhouse gases are key drivers of the global temperature rise. Deniers contest that conclusion, but only the most extreme among them argue that climate change is not happening at all. While discounting the link to man-made sources of carbon pollution, even leading Republicans will acknowledge that seas are rising, the polar ice caps are melting, hurricanes are getting stronger and weather patterns are becoming more extreme. So, bickering over causality aside, is it not the duty of political leaders to take actions that will anticipate and mitigate future disasters?
The answer is an unqualified yes.
Nevertheless, even in Florida, where, in the not-too-distant future, beach communities will be inundated by the ocean, developers are allowed to continue building along doomed shorelines while the governor has ordered state officials and researchers not to use the terms global warming and climate change. And, in the nation's capital, the Trump administration is very busy killing an array of federal programs that either gather scientific data about the global warming phenomenon or make plans to deal with the looming problems that the climate shift will bring.
That is what it means to politicize an issue.