A year ago, I went to Antarctica with a group of climate scientists and leaders, many of whom have visited and worked at that continent's research stations for several decades. Many of the scientists were surprisingly reticent about drawing systemic conclusions about the role of global warming, but their rigorous adherence to just the facts they know from years of study on an individual aspect of climate change made their conclusions all the more credible and devastating. Some studied individual regions of Antarctica; some studied krill, a crustacean that is the foundation of the food chain for the Southern Ocean. They would confine their comments to the subject matter they knew and the changes they had documented and linked to the changes in the climate. The only time I saw them want to venture beyond their area of expertise is when our ship would pull close to land and they would often remark how the ice sheets kept retreating further and further each year. One night after a lot of wine, a scientist told me that the continent was like a half gallon carton of ice cream left out on the counter, slowly melting away from the edges, becoming more and more squishy each year.
Other scientific organizations, businesses and government groups have no such hesitation in connecting the dots on climate change. Recently a federal advisory panel released a National Climate Assessment for public comment, and it documents the acceleration of climate change and its impacts on every region of our country from drought to flooding rains. Al Gore's prediction in “An Inconvenient Truth” that rising sea levels, caused by the melting of our poles, could some day flood Manhattan was ridiculed by the climate deniers at the time, but just six years later Superstorm Sandy flooded all of lower Manhattan and the New Jersey shore, causing billions and billions of dollars in damage. And similar storms are on the way. Meanwhile, America's breadbasket and other large regions are entering their third year of drought.
Everyone from small to large businesses, from local to state governments are now factoring climate change into their planning. A local architect told me the other day that there are no stock gutters that have the capacity to handle the run-off from today’s more intense downpours. In corporate board rooms, climate change is now an issue discussed in strategic business plans and governments are wondering how they are going to possibly afford to pay for storm clean-ups and the economic loss caused by floods and drought. In New York City alone, the two main emergency rooms that serve lower Manhattan were barely up and running two months after Sandy and the money needed to repair the city's infrastructure is a mind-blowing amount, not even accounting for the money necessary to fortify it against the next storm.
The impact of climate change has arrived ahead of schedule, and the gulf between reality and the climate deniers has widened. Many Republican leaders have allowed themselves, of course, to be captured by the deniers. The spectacle of Mitt Romney, who once believed in climate change, having to retract his position to win the Republican nomination may have been a tipping point. Climate change, like many other issues, is one where the views of many Republicans are no longer even especially relevant. The country has moved on, accepting climate change as real and urgent and now taking up the important work of trying to mitigate it.