Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is very concerned about the state of our climate-change debate. “You don’t hear a lot of people who put climate as their number one issue. You don’t hear a lot of them offering constructive innovative solutions for the future,” he told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “It’s usually just a lot of alarmism.” But the new government report that Sasse was commenting on suggests it’s almost impossible to be alarmist about climate change. On the contrary, we need drastic change more urgently than ever.
Thirteen government agencies collaborated on the Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued Friday. More than 300 experts contributed. The results are stark. The big picture remains the same: that “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.” Worse, dire predictions in previous NCAs are more and more frequently coming true. For example, the third NCA, released in 2014, projected increased flooding in coastal cities as sea levels rose. Since then, according to the new report, cities such as Wilmington, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and Miami have all seen record flooding, threatening local economies.
Similarly, extreme weather events continue to increase in frequency. Over two-and-a-half weeks, the most destructive wildfire in California history killed at least 85 people and destroyed 14,000 homes. The NCA predicts these deadly events will only become more common. Not surprisingly, it is the least among us who will bear these burdens most. The report states, “People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts.”
A sane White House would blare the report’s warnings. The Trump White House did everything it could to muffle them. The report wasn’t just issued on a Friday afternoon, but the Friday after Thanksgiving — sort of an uber-Friday news dump. Ironically, that may have backfired: Because the report didn’t have to compete with the usual parade of White House scandals, it may have received more coverage than otherwise.
But however much coverage the report receives, action is sadly some way off. In recent years, many Republicans have resumed conceding that climate change is real, but most deny man’s involvement; those that do admit the human element find other excuses for doing nothing. Meanwhile, conservative media outlets continue to tell the GOP base that climate change is a hoax. Combine all that with a scientifically illiterate president who believes said “hoax” and fossil-fuel interests donating big money to oppose pro-environment policies, and the pile of obstacles to reform is tall indeed.
That said, Democrats can do more to ready a response to the threat of climate change. As the New York Times reported during the home stretch of the midterm elections, “The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans running for federal office do not mention the threat of global warming in digital or TV ads.” Candidates point to polls. But with the cost of climate change rising by the month, and the window to at least alleviate future damage closing, that excuse no longer suffices.
Furthermore, until recently there has been a policy vacuum both among liberals and leftists on climate change. Democratic leaders and left activists both have ambitious programs for health care, inequality, criminal justice and corruption in government, with detailed policies and specific legislation. But on climate change, centrist Democrats have resisted comprehensive climate-change plans. None of the world-be 2020 candidates have pushed detailed climate agendas. Neither Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) nor, further to his left, the Democratic Socialists of America have a detailed plan. The new year would be a good time to rectify that.
To be clear, the vast majority of blame for neglecting climate change lies with the GOP. But with each year bringing more destruction wrought by climate change, there’s no time like the present to ready solutions. Fortunately, Democratic newcomers are doing just that. Incoming representatives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Deb Haaland (N.M.) all support extensive environmental agendas, while groups of young voters such as the Sunrise Movement are organizing grassroots support. Ocasio-Cortez has called for a “Green New Deal” select House committee. This committee would be tasked with crafting a plan for fighting climate change in the next 10 years, including “100% of national power generation from renewable sources,” decarbonization of several major industries and massive investment in green jobs and carbon capture. (Here’s a more detailed Green New Deal proposal, from Greg Carlock, Emily Mangan and Sean McElwee of Data for Progress.) More than 14 representatives, including such veterans as Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), have come out in support of a Green New Deal committee. One hopes that more will see the light, because we’re running out of time.