Nine of the past ten years have had the hottest worldwide temperatures ever recorded. June and July of this year set new monthly highs. The United States has had 45 consecutive months and the world 416 consecutive months above the established normal temperature.
Last year, Los Angeles hit an all-time high of 111 Fahrenheit. Death Valley had the hottest month ever recorded on earth while a city in Oman, experienced the world’s hottest night temperature ever (109 F.) Forest fires in California now last 78 days longer than fifty years ago. A glacier in Iceland has completely melted and sections of Antarctica as large as a small American state have broken off the icebound continent. Warming water is feeding the severity of hurricanes and warmer air in winter will be less able to hold off the Arctic’s jet streams.
Without including other environmental calamities threatening earth’s viability, the overwhelming majority of scientists calculate that if the global temperature rises by just two-three degrees Fahrenheit, our planet will not be able to sustain human life. Just housing, feeding, and otherwise sustaining the 82 million annual increase in the world’s population will cause such a rise. America’s National Security Agency has declared climate change the major threat to American security as parched farmlands and flooded coastlines will add to what is already the greatest wave of migration in human history with all the chaos and conflicts that generates.
Active engagement by governments can stem environmental dangers. International agreements to end the use of specified chemicals stopped the loss and promoted the recovery of atmospheric ozone that holds off the sun’s deadly ultra-violet rays. London’s legendary smog and lead in American gasoline were ended by government legislation.
Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue. At the turn of the twentieth century, Republicans took the lead in creating national parks such as Yosemite, numerous wildlife sanctuaries, and similar measures. The New Deal of the Democrats included planting hundreds of thousands of trees which brought an end to the Dust Bowl syndrome in mid-America. The New Deal also constructed numerous federal dams to control flooding. Since the 1960s, the environmental protection movement has grown steadily. Most recently, teenagers have organized millions-strong global demonstrations to express their concerns about the doomsday future they are inheriting.
The current Republican and Democratic parties have sharply different perspectives regarding climate change. A majority of Republicans downplay the human element in planetary warming and heartily support the continued use of fossil fuels. Most Democrats seek to replace our fossil fuel economy with alternative energy such as solar, wind, and thermal. Some include nuclear power, but most are wary of possible nuclear accidents and the problem of safely storing atomic waste.
President Trump has called claims of climate change a hoax. Early in his tenure he withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement in which 195 nations agreed on international actions to fight climate change. His administration promptly provided new subsidies and other advantages to fossil fuel industries, including coal. This past month, Trump revoked a mandate for more fuel-efficient automobiles set by President Obama even though auto companies accepted the controls as reasonable. He also removed a mandate for low methane gas releases even though the affected utilities wanted them maintained. And he opened parts of the Artic Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Moreover, he has chosen to leave the Environmental Protection Agency understaffed.
Joe Biden would revive Obama’s programs of modest regulations and he would return to the Paris Agreement. All the other Democratic hopefuls advocate protecting the environment even though they disagree on specific measures. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren underscore that the United States has the technological know-how to be the world leader in alternative energy with all the environmental and economic benefits that entails. They note alternative energy facilities cannot be outsourced or underbid by foreign interests. Their plans include retraining fossil fuel workers to make them eligible for better-paid and much safer jobs in alternative energy and other emerging technologies.
If the Senate retains a fossil fuel majority (mostly but not exclusive Republicans) in the next election, it will continue to vigorously defend fossil-fuel technology with all the risks that entails. If the House again gets a climate control majority (mainly but not exclusively Democrats), there is the possibility of meaningful support of alternative energy and other ‘green’ environmental reforms.
Control of state and local governments is equally important in trying to curb climate change. California, for example, has taken the lead in imposing stricter environmental controls in many areas, and pledges to continue to do so whatever the federal government does. Due to environmental hazards, including earthquakes, New York has taken a strong stand against any fracking for natural gas. Jay Inslee who made climate control the central issue in his failed campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination will be running for re-election as Governor of Washington. Burlington, the most populous city in Vermont, has begun a ten-year program to totally run the city on alternative energy.
The next election will determine if we continue or cease our speedy approach to a point of no return on climate change. Anyone who thinks it is not already too hot, need only wait. If there are no substantive changes, present trends will be making planet earth even hotter.