You’d think that the very ominous tone of the National Climate Assessment, with its devastating, point-by-point analysis of how climate change is already wreaking havoc in every corner of the United States might finally have Congress sitting up and taking notice.
Or maybe you wouldn’t. In which case you’d be right. In fact, it’s all just business as usual in the nation’s capital, where perhaps the most depressingly ironic comments, this week, were from Congressmen who now concede that human-caused climate change is real, but who still oppose taking action on the basis that this will hurt jobs for miners.
The senator will say and do pretty much anything to protect his job – or, as he would put it, the jobs of the miners.
Think about that. We are already on track, by even some of the most conservative estimates, for the planet to warm by at least another 10 degrees during this century. Digging up more coal will only make things worse than ever. But coal mining is a key industry in states like Kentucky, where the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, is up for re-election this fall. So McConnell, who’s bought and paid for by the coal industry, will say and do pretty much anything to protect his job – or, as he would put it, the jobs of the miners.
Other senators were also lining up to tell the news networks about all the other issues they consider to be more important than the end of the world as we know it – issues like the Veterans Administration (Sen. Cornyn of Texas), employment (Sen. Barrasso of Wyoming), and the economy (Sen. Thune of South Dakota).
Of course, if the economy were truly a priority, these folks would be all-hands-on-deck to mitigate such things as the drying up of farming and ranching in Western states from California to Oklahoma, the destruction of the citrus crop in Florida; the collapse, all across the nation, of the bees, without whom we will soon be unable to pollinate most of our crops; and hundreds of other climate-caused catastrophes.
While the National Climate Assessment focuses on the United States, its findings apply all over the world. In just one example of how climate change lies behind much of the conflict between nations, especially in the Middle East and Africa, we learned this week that the trouble in Ukraine can be attributed, in part, to a fight over water. As the Daily Beast explained:
Crimea relies on the Ukrainian mainland for 80 percent of its local water supply, and much of Crimea is farmland. A lack of water could influence dramatically this year’s harvest and could potentially render the Crimean peninsula an agricultural wasteland.
As always, of course, the reporting of this latest climate assessment focused entirely on how it hurts us humans. Instead, it’s still mostly the other animals who are taking the rap at a terrible rate. Right now, roughly 200 entire species are going extinct every week. Mostly, they’re considered expendable in the service of “the economy” and “progress”. So their demise, when mentioned at all, is discussed largely as a matter of the need to “conserve resources.”
And so it is that at laboratories all over the country, researchers are racing to develop new breeds of farmed animals who can survive our changing planet.
At Oklahoma State University, scientist Megan Rolf tells the L.A. Times that “the idea is to create animals that are more efficient,” like herds of cattle who consume less water and feed.
At the University of Delaware, researchers are developing chickens who can withstand higher temperatures.
Higher temperatures make turkey breast meat “mushy and unappetizing.”At Michigan State University, Professor Gale Strasburg explains that higher temperatures make turkeys vulnerable to a condition that makes their breast meat “mushy and unappetizing.” No mention, of course, of what it must be like to be one of those overheated turkey with mushy breasts. All the professor tells us is that “within a day or two after the heat wave hits, you will go from there being no problem at all on a farm to 40 percent of turkey breasts having a problem.”
Speaking of chickens and turkeys: Hundreds of chickens died at a factory farm in Mississippi last week when yet another climate-change-related tornado tore through eight buildings that housed almost a quarter of a million chickens. As workers raced around to capture thousands of helpless, fluttering birds, Tyson Foods, which contracts with the facility, said “our hearts go out to the family farmers.” No mention of hearts going out to the chickens. (Maybe some enterprising researcher at one of those universities is already thinking about developing a tornado-resistant chicken.)
At the heart of the climate catastrophe is the simple fact of humankind’s overwhelming concern with itself. Isn’t it always all about us: our jobs, our turkey breasts, our farms, our property, our water, our energy needs, our reelection prospects, our ratings (check out this absurd Crossfire episode on CNN).
This week, the President is finally making a brave attempt to draw people’s attention to the climate crisis and to the latest National Climate Assessment. The problem with it is not so much that it’s too little late (after all, anything’s better than nothing), but rather that, as always, it’s still all about us. And as long as that’s the case, it’s basically business as usual and you can kiss goodbye to all the other living beings whom we don’t consider to be anything more than resources.
And ultimately that means that since we’re all part of a single, intricate web of life, you can kiss goodbye to our own species, too.