Let’s be blunt about this – climate change is real, and it is caused by human activity. Yes, there have been natural fluctuations in the earth’s climate and in the life of the carbon cycle, but none of the times we’ve been heading in this direction have occurred in the age of human civilization. Indeed, some of our predecessors on this planet, the Neanderthals included, died out as a result of shifts in the climate. Consider only the question of bees and their rôle as pollinators. On current trends, we risk driving them to extinction, which will have ripple effects throughout the food chain, potentially triggering a mass extinction event. There are countless examples like this under study today, and the interrelationships between living things make our existence here far more fragile, and potentially far more difficult, than most people understand.
The problem with understanding climate change is that it is a big subject, involving the intersection of numerous discrete fields of study, and requiring a great deal of abstract and holistic reasoning. Few people outside those disciplines have the time to dedicate to the subject, though a number of science journalists and public figures continue to distill the research for the our consumption. What we need to do is trust in the same scientific methods that got us to our present levels of technological and industrial sophistication. The sciences have proven their worth again and again, so why challenge their results now? Independent studies of the published literature from climatologists show more than 97% of relevant specialists have explicitly endorsed the human element. And the carbon cycle itself has been understood for a very long time.
It is a radical simplification but perhaps useful as a mental image – if you want to know what too much carbon dioxide can do to a planet, simply look to Venus. It is our sister world, not Mars, with almost the same size and gravity, and well within the habitable zone around our sun. And yet… its surface temperature is hot enough to melt lead. It is like this because the thick carbon dioxide atmosphere traps the sun’s heat, essentially baking the planet. Could the Earth get that hot? Probably not, but it could easily grow too hot to sustain our ecosystem, and to think that mass extinctions will not be a significant threat to us is absurd.
Climate change is the single greatest national security challenge facing the United States at this time. As the Earth warms, it will trigger mass-migrations of climate refugees – a process which has arguably already begun. It will cause the extinction of vital plants and animals, setting off famines and perhaps sparking resource-wars. Fresh water will become a more precious commodity, again threatening parts of the world with war. All of this will affect the global economy, since it is at this point impossible to isolate any single part of the world from another. As trade is impacted by the slow-downs, natural disasters, and conflicts sparked by climate change, the US economy will shrink, its own environment will be impacted and internal refugees created, we will have to face the fact that we are not alone on this planet – there is no wall that can save us from the consequences of warming.
In this context, it is inexcusable that the present administration has appointed a prominent climate-denier, who valorizes the release of carbon dioxide as somehow a good thing, to head a panel investigating climate change. We need people who are scientifically literate to address matters like this. And we need urgently to address our infrastructure and our readiness for the coming changes. Because, like it or not, if all emissions stopped right now, temperatures would continue to rise over the next century. Our only question now is… by how much? Will we continue to burn coal and oil, raising the peak temperature perhaps to the point where we as a species are threatened? Or will be transition to clean energy worldwide, and work to mitigate the already-inevitable damage and loss of life? If we continue to march forward unprepared, we invite a far deadlier future – one which can easily be avoided. This is why I will stand behind the principles outlined in the Green New Deal, and will advocate policies which can realize its goals, to preserve the American way of life, with all its freedoms and prosperity, for our children.