When it comes to global climate change – more infamously known as global warming – it’s easy to be depressed. After all, what’s there to love about monster hurricanes, more tornadoes and droughts, and other increasingly violent gifts from nature?
Turning to the leaders of our country doesn’t make me any more optimistic. It was just a few weeks ago that Rick Santorum, riffing on the supposed dangers of climate change, argued that all the fuss was merely groundwork “for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.” He is at his most eloquent when speaking about CO2, the main culprit for rising temperatures: “The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is.” Touché, Rick Santorum. Touché.
At least Santorum is honest. This is unlike Mitt Romney, who has somehow managed to stand on both sides of pretty much every major issue up for debate in modern America. It was just a few years ago that Romney, then Governor of Massachusetts, “presided over the introduction of one of the country’s first cap-and-trade programs, for the six largest power plants in the state,” as written in The New Yorker. Then there’s his line in his book No Apology about how “higher energy prices would encourage energy efficiency” or his comment to Larry Kudlow on CNBC about how one fact is incontestable: “It’s getting warmer.” Whoops. Minus 10 points.
And then there’s President Obama. Back in 2009, Obama helped push the country’s first ever cap-and-trade legislation through the House of Representatives. A system of tradable permits that would incentivize businesses to reduce greenhouse gases, cap-and-trade was considered vital by environmentalists and a WMD by conservatives. Luckily for the right, the legislation died in the Senate, a victim of politics and the recession.
In Al Gore’s eyes, this didn’t reflect well on the president. In a blistering 7,000 word op-ed published by Rolling Stone, Gore eviscerates Obama’s handling of the legislation and his failure of leadership on climate change in general. To Gore and other environmentalists, the president is either sleeping at the job, or he has simply accepted defeat, conceding the stage to climate-change deniers and perhaps waiting for the start of the second round come November.
All this resistance begs the question: why? The fuel for deniers is often ignorance or ideology. It’s easy to fire accusations and cry “hoax” if you aren’t aware of the volumes of evidence pointing to human action as the culprit to rising temperatures. And it’s even easier to take shelter under the umbrella of ideological belief, safe from unpleasant questions and uncomfortable facts.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t bode well for our future. While there is debate about the specifics, scientists agree that the climate trajectory is ugly. For example, as the pace of Arctic and Greenland melting increases, sea levels will rise to dangerous levels. Some projections peg this increase at up to, if not even slightly higher than, seven feet. Say goodbye to New Orleans and Miami.
As I stated at the beginning, it’s pretty easy to be depressed about all this. Yet, not all feel this way. I talked with Arnold Bloom, one of the professors on campus who teaches a class on climate change. To my surprise, he was hopeful about the future. “I get more optimistic the more I teach,” he said. Instead of trying to enact change through the political process, he has found another means to push the ball forward. Bloom’s approach offers one potential avenue for progress, a route that does not depend on the glacial pace of political progress. Through education, he is planting the seeds for future action.
It’s disappointing that in order to enact change, we need to bypass the political process, at least for now. Put simply, the political forecast for real, meaningful action on climate change is grim at best. So yes, we must keep up the pressure on our elected officials. But we simply cannot wait for them any longer.
JONATHAN NELSON is thinking of visiting New Orleans before it disappears underwater. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in carpooling.