It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for both the science and politics of climate change, with both the science and the politics again underscoring the necessity of reelecting President Obama and ensuring he has a Democratic Congress with which to work. The science culminated with the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reporting:
The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during July was 77.6°F, 3.3°F above the 20th century average, marking the hottest July and the hottest month on record for the nation.
Which would not, in itself, necessarily be that important if it weren’t part of the continuing trend that last week led James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to write:
In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.
This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.
The study itself can be downloaded here, and it confirmed the early July joint report by the NCDC and Britain’s Met Office that tied extreme weather to climate change. And if Hansen is right about the data soon tying this summer’s extreme heat to climate change, that would have to include the June drought that enveloped an unprecedented 56 percent of the contiguous United States, putting at risk the national food supply. But then the scientific consensus on climate change long has been widely and well established. Indeed, when the Koch-funded climate change skeptic Richard Muller recently reversed course, concluding that human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are indeed causing global warming, leading climate scientist Michael Mann sardonically noted:
Muller’s announcement last year that the Earth is indeed warming brought him up to date w/ where the scientific community was in the the 1980s. His announcement this week that the warming can only be explained by human influences, brings him up to date with where the science was in the mid 1990s. At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of a few years!
As I wrote over a year ago:
Is it hyperbole to call climate change the most important issue humanity has ever faced? Do other issues even compare when climate change itself encompasses almost all of them? How important are the issues of war and mass violence and human rights? The geopolitical consequences of climate change are almost unimaginable. There will be droughts and losses of vegetation, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has warned of potentially catastrophic impacts on food production. Imagine 200 million people displaced, worldwide. Where will they go? How will they survive? How will the less endangered people and governments cope with such an unprecedented torrent of refugees? Think of the reactionary xenophobia already resulting from immigration in the United States. Consider that the wonder of Europe’s open internal travel is about to end, as nations there prepare to close their borders, as their own reactionary response to the increasing numbers of refugees fleeing the violence in revolutionary North Africa and the Middle East.
Does health care matter? How will nations cope as climate change expands the territories of everything from dangerous diseases to deadly insects? One need only consider the effects of record tornados and increasingly severe hurricanes to begin to realize the human costs of climate disasters. And then there are the impacts on forests and ocean acidification, the latter threatening the base of the marine food chain, and all whose livlihoods or lives depend upon it. Back on land, the disruptions to agriculture could undermine the food supplies for billions.
If all this isn’t enough, and for those that care only about money, the economy often is an excuse for doing little or nothing about climate change. The presumption is that what’s good for the environment is bad for the economy. It’s another of the fundamental lies used by the narrow special interests whose riches do indeed depend on harming not helping. But however politically dominant the fossil fuels industries may be, their business strength does not translate into wider economic strength or even stability. Climate change is an economic crisis.
And this is why the politics is so desperately important. Because in the face of such overwhelming science about such an unprecedented global threat, the Republicans continue to deny reality, and their 2012 standard-bearer Mitt Romney has done his usual flip-flop, here into the standard climate change denial that plays so well with his anti-science Republican base. On this most critical of issues, there is a profoundly substantive difference between Romney and President Obama, and between Republicans and Democrats.
(Continue reading below the fold.)