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Opinion: If you hated COVID-19, just wait until climate change heats up

The dry edge of Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam
The “bathtub ring” behind Hoover Dam shows how low the water level is at Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, on June 11.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, June 26, 2021. The forecast high today is around 110 degrees — in Portland. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

The weekend’s extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest — an area once hailed on The Times’ op-ed page as perhaps this country’s lone climate-change redoubt — is the burning example du jour of the dangerous weather anomalies that global warming will increasingly inflict on areas utterly unprepared for them (do you know anyone in Seattle with air conditioning?). As you read this, people who built their lifestyles on year-round mild temperatures and ample precipitation are at risk of dying from heat that would make even Angelenos cower for shade under the nearest ficus trees.

It’s extreme weather like the record heat in Washington state and Oregon that draws our attention to climate change, but typically only until things return to “normal.” What they tend not to do is prompt the difficult, long-term work required to change policies and empower bureaucracies to harden infrastructure and prepare entire populations for more frequent natural disasters. Thankfully, in California, we have one such agency already in place that could prepare coastal areas for rising sea levels. Problem is, Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t doing his part.

This week, The Times’ Editorial Board took Newsom to task for adding only $1.6 million to the budget of the California Coastal Commission, the state agency empowered to protect the coast. Newsom has called sea level rise an environmental priority, notes the editorial board, but his proposed funding increase doesn’t go far enough to bolster the staffing of an agency that has been underfunded since the 1980s. The Coastal Commission faces life-and-death questions in the era of rising sea levels, including whether to prohibit development in low-lying areas that may soon be inundated and to relocate existing structures inland. The commission’s work has increased and become more complex over the years, which is why Newsom should agree to the Legislature’s $30-million budget increase over five years, says the editorial board.

And while we have your attention on climate change, I feel it is so important to point out that for all the disasters we’ve endured over the last year — a pandemic and an insurrection, to name a few — none comes close to the threat posed by global warming, a point made by our editorial board months ago. So I think it’s safe to say you’ll be reading more about the floods, droughts, extreme heat and economic misery made more intense and frequent by climate change long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

What kind of City Hall are you running, Mayor Garcetti? L.A.'s mayor cultivates the nice-guy image of a diplomat who rises above the political fray, says the editorial board. Problem is, Eric Garcetti has fostered a toxic work environment at odds with the image he projects in public, judging by the crude comments made in a closed Facebook group by his top aide Ana Guerrero about city employees and even beloved labor icon Dolores Huerta. Now that those comments have been made public, the editorial board worries Garcetti’s productivity as a lame-duck mayor may be hampered. L.A. Times

Ugh, Hunter Biden. The president’s son briefly holed up in Venice — not far from the home of op-ed columnist Robin Abcarian — to channel his past of drug addiction and self-destruction into his artwork. None of this is particularly noteworthy, Abcarian says, since Venice Beach sees artists of all kinds settle down in the neighborhood for inspiration and privacy. What is eyebrow-raising is the $75,000 to $500,000 that the budding painter is seeking for some of his works, proving once again that Hunter Biden is still trading on his family name. L.A. Times

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Senate Republicans won’t even consider voting rights, so the filibuster must go. Joe Manchin, the powerful Democratic senator from West Virginia, put together a compromise voting rights package that incorporated many elements of the For the People Act while including provisions, such as voter ID, that could have drawn the support of some Republicans. But thanks to the undemocratic filibuster, which gives the minority party effective veto power in the Senate, Republicans would not even offer up amendments or allow Manchin’s compromise to be debated. Perhaps this will make Manchin recognize how important it is for the filibuster to be abolished, says the editorial board. L.A. Times

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A year ago, U.S. businesses pledged to change in support of Black Lives Matter. How have they done? Interestingly, companies with a disproportionately low number of Black employees were more likely than others to make public statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death. Ralinda Harvey Smith says the difference between what a company says in public and whom it hires in private speaks volumes, and shows why we need public disclosure of hiring and retention data. L.A. Times

Don’t measure justice for George Floyd by the length of Derek Chauvin’s sentence. The Times’ editorial board wrestles with the question of what might be considered an appropriate sentence for the police officer who murdered George Floyd: “Chauvin is no longer a police officer and will never again be in a position to arrest a suspect with deadly force under color of authority. Do we really need to keep him locked up until he is 75? 85? Is it justice to use the remainder of his life as a warning to other officers? Nor can we simply set Chauvin free, even if he is no danger to the rest of us, and no inspiration for other officers.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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