How We Just Voted for Extinction
Asked whether he thought the new Senate will be able to pass any bi-partisan legislation at all, Senator-elect Cory Gardner of Colorado paused for a moment and said, “Yes, the Keystone Pipeline.”
In other words, the one thing we can expect Congress to agree on is poisoning the land and burning more fossil fuels than ever.
“This was the most content-free election I’ve ever seen,” veteran reporter Al Hunt told Charlie Rose. “There was no talk about the war, there was no talk about immigration, there was no talk about infrastructure, any of the big issues.”
But wait! When it comes to “big issues”, even these top journalists are apparently oblivious to the biggest issue of all and the only issue that’s going to matter to anyone a few brief decades from now: global earth changes and mass extinction.
Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most alarming, flashing-red-lights report ever on climate change. The bottom line from the 800 scientists worldwide who worked on it:
To save the planet from “irreversible changes”, we have to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the end of the century.
Most of the cuts, they say, would have to be made within the next 30 years. And bear in mind that this is a conservative estimate, not a radical view, of the challenge we face.
And even if we do that, we’ve already set in motion a level of devastation that “will continue for centuries.”
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added: “Time is not on our side.”
But the first thing we hear that the new Congress may be able to agree on is building a giant new pipeline to carry tar-sands oil from one end of the United States to the other. (“It’s a job-creator,” they tell us.)
And when asked what they think about climate change, Republican legislators have been prepped with a new response: “I’m not a scientist.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate leader starts with the “I’m not a scientist” sound bite. And when pressed further, he adds: “My job is to try and protect jobs in Kentucky now, not speculate about science in the future.”
House Speaker John Boehner: “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott to The Miami Herald, when asked if he believes climate change is significantly affecting the weather (like streets flooding in Miami Beach): “Well, I’m not a scientist.”
But don’t blame these spineless pols. They’re only saying what voters want to hear. These talking points have been thoroughly tested on focus groups of voters. Indeed, a poll from CBS News and The New York Times reveals that few Americans regard climate change as a serious challenge. The economy still tops the list of important problem for the nation, and even immigration is considered a bigger challenge than climate change.
All in all, we get what we vote for. And since there wasn’t a candidate anywhere who was taking the unfolding mass extinction seriously, if you voted at all you had to be voting for a Congress that would do nothing except make the situation worse.
Nor is ours the only country whose esteemed leaders behave this way. Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo (population 20 million), is going to run out of water in a few weeks if it doesn’t get some serious rain.
The news came just a few days before Brazil held national elections, and so the mayor steered away from even discussing the matter for fear of losing votes.
[But] the severity of the situation in recent weeks has led government leaders to finally admit Brazil’s financial powerhouse is on the brink of a catastrophe.
Antonio Nobre, a leading climate scientist at Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, explains that this is “all because of deforestation.” (Between August 2012 and July 2013, another 2,275 square miles of Amazon forest was destroyed.)
And the president of Brazil’s Water Regulatory Agency said Sao Paulo residents should brace for a “collapse like we’ve never seen before.”
Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption, tells the New York Times:
It’s hard to imagine a stronger example than a city of 20 million people running out of water. Yet despite the clear threat, the main response is “We hope it rains.”
Meanwhile, here at home, the huge High Plains Aquifer that reaches from South Dakota to Texas is also going dry, dropping by up to two feet each year. More and more wells yield nothing but damp sand. Ranchers can’t feed their starving cows on the parched land. (Raising cows for food is the single most wasteful use of water in farming.)
The aquifer has taken millions of years to accumulate, and once dry it will take thousands of years to recharge.
Why are we all living in such total denial of reality, trotting out comments like “I’m not a scientist”? According to Gilding:
We know in our hearts there’s no going back once you end denial. It would demand that the country face up to the urgency of reversing rather than slowing deforestation and the need to prepare the country for the risks that a changing climate presents.
Instead, candidates running for office spent more than a billion dollars in this election campaign running 2.2 million mostly-negative TV ads – 101,800 in North Carolina alone.
And every day of the campaign, another 200 species of animals went extinct. Every day.
At some point, we’ll get it. But until then, we’ll continue to be more afraid of children coming across our borders than of an unfolding mass extinction that’s just too big for us to comprehend.