Opinion: We’re in a harm-reduction phase of climate change

The Bobcat fire burns a portion of the Angeles National Forest near Llano on Sept. 20, 2020.
The Bobcat fire burns a portion of the Angeles National Forest near Llano on Sept. 20, 2020.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton — back after my colleague Kerry Cavanaugh covered for me last weekend — and it is Saturday, April 9, 2022. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

I wanted to start this week’s newsletter with a full-throated defense of editorial writer Robert Greene after he was attacked by Alex Villanueva in a Facebook live event (more on that in a bit). But there are, alas, bigger problems right now than Los Angeles County’s pugilistic sheriff.

Like climate change, which poses a far greater nuisance to life on Earth than an excitable sheriff’s troll army to an editorial writer.


I’ve written here about the need to regard federal inaction on climate change as the scandal of our time, and as multiple Opinion pieces in The Times this week noted, the United Nations put a finer point on the immediacy of the threat: Its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity has roughly eight years — not a century or a generation or even a decade, but less time than “Seinfeld” was on TV — before we blow past a critical threshold for avoiding some of the worst effects of global warming down the line.

Note the stark reality here: We’re long past the point where we can prevent the climate anomalies already underway from intensifying. So the Bobcat fire that burned a chunk of the San Gabriel Mountains in 2020, the Caldor fire that scorched 220,000 acres near Lake Tahoe last year, the back-to-back fire seasons that killed ancient giant sequoia trees — there’ll be more of that, even if we drastically cut emissions now. But if humanity continues to accelerate its greenhouse gas output, then I’m afraid we’re left with our imaginations to predict what awaits.

And the saddest thing about this (leaving aside all the death and misery and displacement ahead)? We have the technology and the know-how to make the necessary changes. What we don’t have, says The Times Editorial Board, is the political will:

“The IPCC assessment makes clear that preventing catastrophic climate change is no longer a question of science, technology or even money — the cost of solar, wind and batteries have come down as much as 85% over the last decade, according to the report, and generating renewable energy is now often cheaper than burning fossil fuels. The barriers are entirely political at this point, maintained by politicians and the fossil fuel interests they prop up.”

The editorial board also urged President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act if Congress does not act. In a separate piece, columnist Nicholas Goldberg digs into reasons why humanity refuses to change course:

“Neuroscientists, psychologists and scholars of human behavior have tried to answer those questions. Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert argues that we react instinctively to protect ourselves if a baseball is hurtling toward our heads, but we are not biologically wired to prepare for big, slow-moving threats.


“Here in the United States, our democratic political system is ill-suited to deliver policies that require sacrifice and pain today in exchange for future gain; politicians who support such strategies get booted from office.

“Our economic system rewards corporate behavior that maximizes short-term profits for shareholders rather than long-term planning for a better, more stable world.”

So it’s money. Kind of puts a modern, environmental spin on the “banality of evil.”

Finally, a Black woman has a place on the Supreme Court bench. The editorial board is thrilled by Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the high court, but aside from the historical significance of this event, it does not find much else to celebrate: “As groundbreaking as her confirmation is, the present-day era is not as racially, sexually and politically evolved as it should be, and the process she endured shows it. How despicably partisan and unjustified it was for 47 Republicans — some lawyers themselves — to vote against the nomination of such an extraordinarily qualified candidate. Yet, given the politics of the moment, we were reduced to being heartened that all 50 members of the Democratic Caucus and three Republicans in the Senate did vote to confirm her. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) released a statement saying he didn’t expect to always agree with Jackson, but found her to be a ‘well-qualified jurist and a person of honor.’” L.A. Times

About the sheriff, as promised: He didn’t like the editorial our board wrote after his bizarre endorsement meeting in which he baselessly accused the county inspector general of holding Holocaust denialist views, so he demeaned editorial writer Robert Greene during a Facebook Live event this week. Instead of linking to Villanueva’s video, I’ll take the opportunity to highlight Greene’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism on criminal justice in California, Times reporters’ recent investigation of a Sheriff’s Department cover-up, and the work of journalist Cerise Castle on deputy gangs. If I missed any important journalism on our Sheriff’s Department, feel free to let me know in an email.

Gun violence is America’s way of life — and death. There’s another way we’re needlessly sabotaging our chances of survival (at least in America), and it was put on gruesome display in Sacramento last Sunday. Writes the editorial board: “In the aftermath of the Sacramento slaughter, President Biden called on Congress to enact reasonable restrictions on firearms by banning ghost guns, assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; requiring background checks for all gun sales; and repealing gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability. But after years of inaction despite the nation’s mounting death toll, we have no reason to think Congress will suddenly heed Biden’s call.” L.A. Times

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A high school student says the Holocaust is barely taught in his history class. This paucity of instruction was a theme of our recent Holocaust remembrance package featuring letters and videos from aging survivors. Sadly, those survivors’ fears seem to have been confirmed by Virginia high school junior Gabriel Ascoli in a Times op-ed piece this week: “I’ve heard so little about the Holocaust during my years in school that if I didn’t have intimate personal connections to it, I could easily put it in the back of my mind. My 10th-grade history class in Virginia spent weeks elaborating on the way of life of ancient Mesopotamians and less than a day on the Holocaust. It’s hard to fathom.” L.A. Times

The GOP wants voters to see pedophiles all around us. We saw it during the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings: Republicans are preying upon the innate desire to protect children to paint Democrats as pro-pedophile. Columnist Jean Guererro links this far-right hysteria to the “Satanic panic” of the 1980s and ’90s: “California was an epicenter of the panic, which resulted in dozens of Satanic ritual abuse convictions and many long prison sentences nationwide, according to Kurt Andersen’s ‘Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.’ In 1983 in Manhattan Beach, the McMartin preschool was said to be the site of demonic abuse of hundreds of children. ... An unhinged response by police and the media contributed to what was then the longest and costliest trial in U.S. history. One of the alleged victims later shared he had been pressured to invent his stories of abuse. The nationwide hysteria, with echoes of the Salem witch trials, was stoked by omnipresent images of missing children on milk cartons back then.” L.A. Times

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