Yesterday's events in Moore, Oklahoma are not the genesis of this post. It would be terribly insensitive to write about such happenings so soon after they have occured. People deserve time to mourn. My thoughts, my deepest sympathies go out to that community. Having grown up in the midwest, I've experienced my share of watches and warnings, witnessed a fair few instances of serious damage caused by nature's fury. I am saddened by the loss of life and the heartbreak being experienced by the survivors. Please do not mistake this post as originating from that tragedy. Anything but.
No, just a coincidence, but I noticed on NPR's news feed for the IPad yesterday that coastal communities in Alaska are experiencing significant flooding as the oceans rise. In one town, the Army Corps of Engineers has estimated the school, which is located on one of the higher spots in town, will be underwarter by 2017.
I note this because I also listened to a story on Minnesota Public Radio over the weekend about a conservative author/commentator who is apparently travelling the country talking on conservative radio stations (of which there are a fair few). He is talking about the fact that conservatives look at liberals and think (paraphrase here), "Liberals see a problem, overhype it, enact regulation and use that to justify new taxes, but on this one (climate change) we (conservatives) got it wrong." The clip on the radio has a conservative radio commentator challenging him saying, "The vast majority of climatologists don't agree you, they dont' agree that humans are causing global warming." He, the man touring the country, replies conservatives, if faced with the fact that 97 out of 100 experts felt one way, would accept that fact as true normally. Further that while human causation isn't 100% confirmed, scientists are "pretty darned certain." Finally he comments to the conservative radio host that in fact, the numbers are exactly the opposite, that in fact the vast majority (97% according to a recent report) of scientists working in the field are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that it is human caused and that the conservative radio host's information isn't correct. Personally, I suspect the host is talking about meteorologists, aka weathermen and women, not climatologists. Climatologists virtually universally agree climate change is real and human caused (97% or more). Weatherman are to climate science as gem cutters are to geology. Weather is the temperature outsie and what will happen in the next week, climate science is the historical analsyis of WHY it will be 97 or -30 as an average temperature. Conservatives have long used meteorologists as justification, but it is simply not justification, it is self-rationaliztion.
Now a couple of political posturing points. It's absurd to say that liberals are "just looking for an excuse to raise taxes, all the time, about every crisis" as this particular conservative suggested. We want to pay for what we spend, and we want fairness in our tax system. We ALSO look to use taxes to discourage distructive conduct (like smoking) and we're hardly alone. Conservatives voted for taxes on cigarettes as well. Second, it's hardly unique for conservatives to be wrong, look at racism, look at "neo-con" policies like the invasion of Iraq, look at abstinence only sex education. Bluntly, I think it's unusual for conservatives to be right, but I'm willing to admit I'm biased.
Anyway, back to the point - the issue is simply this. Liberals see that the cost of dealing with climate change will be far more than preventing climate change. Sure, we don't want to see entire species wiped out of the ecosystem, a vast tragedy in itself which harms our ability to grow food and feed our planet, but more, in this like in so many things we see that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A case in point is smoking. Smoking is an anethma on society. People warned, doctors and other researchers warned us for years about the serious health impacts from smoking. My parents told me that people knew smoking wasn't healthy long before it was proven conclusively and adjucated in courts (yet my parents smoked). What they didn't know (and likely they wouldn't admit to if asked) is just how massively destructive smoking was and the immense negative impact it would have to our economy and health care systems. The health care impacts of smoking cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars. Conservatives stood (for years) on the side of tobacco companies complaining about "nanny-state" tactics, abuses of power, ambulance chasing lawyers, frivolous lawsuits, and the like. They defended the "free market", people made "free choices" - notwithstanding they were lied to, that industry research showing the serious health risks were covered up, lied about, and hidden. This obdurate defense of "capitalist liberties" has lead this nation, in part, down the path of bankruptcy paying to care for those made seriously ill by smoking. This stance is earily similar to the defense of so-called "job creators", which has had a similar impact of helping to bankrupt the country by denying the country of tax receipts it would have collected had tax laws stayed the same as they were in the 1950's, 60's and 70's. Far more important than taxes, though, it has contributed to enormous suffering as people developed smoking related diseases, grew terribly ill, and ultimately died.
And here we are again. Conservatism, according to the man touring the country, listens to reason (with the implication that liberals do less so). Yet where is that reason? If you were faced with a disaster which would cost tens of trillions of dollars to address if left unchecked, and 97% of your experts said it was possible to mitigate, if not prevent, if we act NOW, saving hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars, what would you do? Would you act, or would you act like an ostrich? Do you want to pay to rebuild all the schools along the Alaskan (and Pacific and Altantic) coasts which are within the expected flood zones as the oceans rise? Yes it costs money, money the fossil-fuel industry doesn't want to have to pay (and so hires "scientists" to prepare "reports" which favor doing nothing, and further the industry uses the right-wing media to promote this propoganda), it also will cost money we as an American people will be hard-pressed to find given to address the issue our current tax structure. Yet, it will be far less expensive than paying to rebuild towns, roads, homes, and lives. When 97% of the experts say you can save that money if you act now, you act, if you're sane, if you're "responsible." It's always less costly to prevent the spill than clean up the mess. In the end you always have to pay something to deal with a problem. You can bury your head if you like, but you ultimately ALWAYS have to pay the Piper, it's just a question of how much and for how long and how many lives will be lost along the way.