California Burns, the Gulf Coast Soaks, but the RNC Sticks Head Deeper Into Sand | Opinion

As fires have raged through California this week, a major hurricane underwent record intensification in the Gulf of Mexico, slamming into Texas and Louisiana. These events are symptomatic of the exacerbating effects of climate change. Yet this all seemed to be of very little concern at this week's Republican National Convention (RNC).

The willful ignorance of the climate crisis exhibited by one of our two major political parties is jarring, and it was on full display this week. It might almost seem like a joke. But it's not funny. It's a tragedy. And it's not an accident. It's a deliberate strategy.

The strategy was perhaps best exemplified by the acceptance speeches of the Vice Presidential and Presidential nominees. On Wednesday, the third night of the convention, Mike Pence became the first speaker to actually mention climate change at the RNC. Alas, it was only to downplay the urgency of climate action and falsely claim that efforts to decarbonize our civilization would hurt the economy. (In reality, the cost of climate inaction greatly exceeds the cost of action.)

Not to be outdone, in his acceptance speech on Thursday, Trump went further. He boasted of his efforts to green-light the Keystone XL oil pipeline—a project which leading climate scientist James Hansen has warned would be "game over for the climate". Trump proudly reiterated his threat to exit the Paris Climate agreement—a development that would insure our status as a global pariah and a primary obstacle to action on climate.

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How tone deaf, craven and insensitive does a political party have to be to dismiss the greatest long-term crisis we face at a time when that crisis is crying out to us for action? Apparently, as tone deaf, craven and insensitive as today's Republican party.

Compelled by campaign donations to defend the fossil fuel industry at all costs, Republican politicians can no longer pretend that climate change isn't happening, or insist that carbon emissions aren't at fault. The scientific consensus is clear and unequivocal that fossil fuel burning is warming the planet, and that a result of all that extra energy in the atmosphere is the extreme weather we're now experiencing in the form of unprecedented floods, heat waves, droughts, wildfires and superstorms. The impacts of climate change have simply become too obvious to the person on the street to deny anymore.

So the forces of inaction—the inactivists—have engaged in a softer form of denial in their new war on climate action. It consists of downplaying the threat, deflecting attention from real solutions, and delaying meaningful action, all while continuing to deregulate the fossil fuel industry.

So while Americans are battered by winds and flooding from Hurricane Laura, which intensified at record rate thanks to bathtub-warm waters, growing into one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever strike the Gulf Coast, and while they battle unprecedented wildfires that continue to ravage the western U.S., Trump and Republicans boast of how they've unleashed the fossil fuel industry by rolling back fundamental environmental protections.

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In a world where conservatives stuck with their principles and responded intelligently to scientific warnings as they once did in the 1970s and 80s, we'd already be well on our way to kicking what George W. Bush called our national addiction to oil.

Instead, however, the fossil fuel industry has funded a network of front groups and hired guns to cast doubt on the science in the same way the tobacco industry with cigarette smoking and cancer. And it has poured money into the campaign coffers of conservative politicians who would carry messages of denial, deflection and dismissal cooked up by public relations shops masquerading as think tanks and media outfits.

And for decades, their plan was devastatingly effective. Denial remained a viable option when climate change was only a threat to our future. Unfortunately, we've burned so much carbon so quickly that we've not only begun to feel the impacts of a warmed world, we can see the devastating impacts play out in real time.

Fires in the west, hurricanes on the coasts, droughts in the heartlands, heatwaves across the continent; nowhere is safe from climate change, not even Alaska, where permafrost is thawing after centuries of being frozen solid.

It's one thing to deny climate change when it's far-off and far away. But when a potentially "unsurvivable storm surge" laps at your door, it's a different matter altogether.

Which is why we will need a surge of our own—at the voting booth in the upcoming U.S. presidential election—to ensure that denial doesn't continue to harm health, hearth and home.

This is a make-or-break election for the climate, and voters have only one choice. One party—the Republican party—has clearly established they have no interest in acting on the climate crisis (nor the coronavirus crisis for that matter), while the other—the Democratic party—has put forward bold plans that, if implemented, could lead us down the road toward tackling the climate crisis.

But that can only happen if we turn out and support them at the ballot box this Fall. Nothing less than the future viability of our civilization is at stake.

Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University. His forthcoming book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet, is due out in January 2021.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

California Burns, the Gulf Coast Soaks, but the RNC Sticks Head Deeper Into Sand | Opinion | Opinion