Giving credit where credit is due, former Vice President Al Gore wrote a book 13 years ago called “The Assault on Reason,” but it was mostly a commentary on President Bush’s policies related to the environment and the war in Iraq. More to the point of climate denial was his book written in 2006 called “An Inconvenient Truth,” for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
There are fewer climate change deniers these 14 years later, yet the naysayers still exist. Despite years of advancing oceanic temperature data, recent decades of record high temperatures across the planet, more enhanced and dangerous rainstorms, windstorms, flooding, fires and hurricanes, these deniers still exist in spite of the fact that many of them live in places like Florida and Louisiana and can no longer get insurance for their homes.
Are we at an existential tipping point in the climate crisis? Maybe; maybe not. But it’s reasonable to be risk averse. That doesn’t mean one has to be convinced or even 100% sure. If I could truthfully say that 20% of the U.S. would be uninhabitable in 20 years, would that be enough to change the minds of holdout deniers? Maybe some, but like most things nowadays, politics seems to trump reason.
Former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Shultz, both Republicans and also both former secretaries of treasury, wrote not too long ago in Foreign Affairs Magazine, “In the United States, the case for greater action on climate change is typically made on environmental grounds. But there are equally compelling economic, geopolitical and national security rationales for the United States to lead the world on climate policy.”
Their pro-market solution? I’ll get to that.
Hawaii rescuers are still in the midst of the gruesome task of uncovering bodies from layers of ash (so far close to 700) as fires blasted through Maui like a blow torch with hurricane force winds. Wildfires in Washington State have also erupted, and Canadian wildfire smoke from 27 million acres of fire has been inhaled by hundreds of millions of Americans this year, and they are expected to keep burning into this fall. Libya has lost well over 5,000 people in a record-breaking flood this past week, 5,000 is just an estimate because so many earthen houses just buried people alive.
As of September, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) is running out of disaster-relief funds, weeks before the main hurricane season. So far this year, there have been 15 weather-related disasters each resulting in over one billion dollars in relief funds.
Some 2,500 miles east of Hawaii an uncommon storm washed over southern California. It was the first tropical storm warning in decades for the southern border and Los Angeles, dumping almost a year’s worth of rain in two days.
Phoenix, Arizona just set another record, 55 days of temperatures at or above 110 degrees in 2023.
Heat records were set in China, Spain, Chile, Japan, Italy, North Africa and, of course, Miami, where July was the hottest month ever on record. The first two weeks of July this summer were the hottest on record for our planet.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the earth has warmed roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the end of the 1800s and will likely get hotter until we viscerally feel a sense of urgency to end our dependence on fossil fuels and halt deforestation in places like the Amazon.
By far and away the biggest element of our biosphere is the ocean. Our oceans have absorbed millions of tons of carbon dioxide, making them more acidic, and reducing their oxygen content. Our waters have become warmer as well. All these climate-change effects have affected aquatic life, bleaching corals, altering fish migrations and most impactful, changing ocean currents which impact the earth’s weather patterns.
According to the World Bank, our oceans are the largest heat sink on the planet, absorbing 90% of the excess heat caused by climate change. They are also very efficient carbon sinks absorbing an estimated 23% of human-caused CO2 emissions.
In the first Republican primary debate, a young conservative voter asked how the presidential contenders would deal with concerns that the GOP “doesn’t care” about the climate-change issue. Vivek Ramaswamy’s answer was that the climate change agenda was a “hoax,” prompting intense boos from the audience, a sign that young Republicans may not be in denial.
This year, here in Hillsboro, Ohio, we have not felt the effects as dramatically as other places, but in time we will and economically it’s likely to be felt most in our agricultural sector. What tends to move the “urgency needle” in America is when people and corporations feel the effects in their wallets and shareholder earnings. The question is, will that economic tipping point come too late, past that nebulous and difficult to define point of no return. Or will that tipping point come when enough people in the growing number of places like Houston, Phoenix, Miami, Spain, Italy, Algeria and Chile say: “Enough.”
Secretaries Baker and Shultz are concerned about China’s lead in producing and exporting wind turbines, solar panels and batteries with the U.S. in fourth place behind China, Germany and Japan. “The U.S. cannot remain the world’s foremost power if it is not also its leading energy innovator. The winner of the emerging clean energy race will determine the economic and geopolitical balance of power for decades to come. The U.S. faces steep competition.”
They propose a “Carbon Dividends Plan,” with a carbon production fee of 5% per metric ton with the dividends being paid to the American people in the form of quarterly dividend checks. This would include taxing carbon being imported into the U.S. It’s an interesting idea. Their carbon dividends framework has ostensibly “been endorsed by 3,500 economists, four past chairs of the Federal Reserve, 27 Nobel Laureates and 15 former chairs of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, including all eight former Republican chairs.”
All that being said, politics in America has become feverish, and in its delirium often an assault on reason. For many hyped-up partisans, climate change is an “inconvenient truth.” But the physics of climate change is immune to politics and doesn’t give a wit about political parties, red states or blue states, capitalism, socialism, or communist totalitarianism. Everyone will feel the heat.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.