Climate change is bad, but the Senate is tired
This Guardian article explaining what different temperature rises would mean for the global climate is one of the most helpfully concrete interventions into the climate change discussion I've seen. For instance, a rise of a "mere" two degrees Celsius, which is what scientists are hoping to achieve if we secure a strong global warming deal and implement it pretty quickly, would look something like this:
The heatwaves seen in Europe during 2003, which killed tens of thousands of people, will come back every year with a 2C global average temperature rise. Southern England will regularly see temperatures around 40C in summer. The Amazon turns into desert and grasslands, while increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere make the world's oceans too acidic for remaining coral reefs and thousands of other marine lifeforms. More than 60 million people, mainly in Africa, would be exposed to higher rates of malaria. Agricultural yields around the world will drop and half a billion people will be at greater risk of starvation. The West Antarctic ice sheet collapses, the Greenland ice sheet melts and the world's sea level begins to rise by seven metres over the next few hundred years. Glaciers all over the world will recede, reducing the fresh water supply for major cities including Los Angeles. Coastal flooding affects more than 10 million extra people. A third of the world's species will become extinct as the 2C rise changes their habitats too quickly for them to adapt.
Optimism! And rises of three degrees, four degrees, and even five degrees are becoming more likely by the day. It's important to note that the consequences don't become correspondingly more nightmarish as you move up the scale; they become exponentially more nightmarish, in part because they unleash new forces that further accelerate warming. Arctic permafrost dissipates and the carbon trapped beneath it rises and then things get even hotter. That sort of thing.
Amidst all this, conservative Senate Democrats are waving off the idea of serious action in 2010. But not because they're opposed. Oh, heavens no! It's because of abstract concerns over the political difficulties the problem presents. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), for instance, avers that “climate change in an election year has very poor prospects.” That's undoubtedly true, though it is odd to say that the American system of governance can only solve problems every other year. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) says that “we need to deal with the phenomena of global warming," but wants to wait until the economy is fixed.
Rather than commenting abstractly on the difficulty of doing this, Conrad and Bayh and others could make it easier by saying things like "we simply have to do this, it's our moral obligation as legislators," and trying to persuade reporters to write stories about how even moderates such as Conrad and Byah are determined to do this. They could schedule meetings with other senators begging them to take this seriously, leveraging the credibility and goodwill built over decades in the Senate. They could spend money on TV ads in their state, talking directly into the camera, explaining to their constituents that they don't like having to face this problem, but see no choice. That effort might fail -- probably will, in fact -- but it's got a better chance of success than not trying. And this is, well, pretty important.
See Matt Yglesias for more on this. It's very frustrating.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus.
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