GELFAND’S WORLD - There is a temptation to gloat over the fact that the states of the south are finally getting what is coming to them from global warming. This week, we've seen the results in the form of a heat dome over Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, just as we've previously seen the results of global warming in the form of more powerful hurricanes that have flooded substantial areas along the Gulf Coast.
We are supposed to avoid enjoying the misery of others, but it's hard not to remind ourselves that these states are the political center of global warming denial. One former senator from Oklahoma wrote a book on the subject, and the Republican Party has been the center of the revolt against science. Some of us remember that when Donald Trump was running for president the first time, his response to a reporter's question about global warming was to say that he didn't believe the science was there.
The science was, in fact, there back in 2016, and it had been there ten and twenty years earlier.
Just as a reminder, let's take a brief stroll through one kind of evidence, which is the actual level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Remember that CO2 is called a greenhouse gas because it adds to the greenhouse effect, which is the warming of the earth's atmosphere and ultimate its surface.
An observatory in Hawaii has been measuring carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere since 1957. You can find a report here. This is a look at what we breathe, so it ought to be of concern to any sentient human. And by the way, there are other places that are also measuring CO2.
How about if we look at the CO2 record directly?
There are seasonal variations, but the year to year increase is striking. In fact, it is almost a straight line going towards the sky, except that over the past couple of decades it has been rising even faster, forming a curve that might be described as "parabolic upward."
By now, there is every kind of data about global warming, ranging from the loss of ice shelves and the disappearance of floating ice along both poles. There is the remarkable increase in ocean temperatures. We are even seeing an effect of climate change on the wine industry. (England is developing a grape growing industry, of all things.)
As a species, we could have done better. We should have been acting seriously about the threat of global warming back in the 1990s, but Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right wing were in opposition. There may have been legitimate debates available to us at the time as to how to combat global warming, but the right wing -- presumably in fear that the oil and coal businesses would be affected -- simply chose to lie and deny about global warming's very existence. So here it is 30 years later, and we're that much further down the warming road without having done enough to stop it. In 2023, we are at a place we should have been in 2001.
And the conservatives in this country have fought every step of the way against fixing a problem that is of our own making. So now that the red-state conservative core is feeling the heat, there is certainly a temptation to laugh at their discomfort, to engage in schadenfreude.
I would advise us to keep it under control. Global warming affects all of us, and is created by all of us. Not only that, but we are going to need allies in the fight to mitigate and control what is already becoming a catastrophe.
And one more thing: The people who are suffering the most and dying in the heat wave are the poor people. It's not the wealthy and those who suck up to the wealthy.
We need to talk to the people of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and explain that global warming is real, it is here, and it is going to get worse if we don't all do something about it. There is one nagging point that has to come out: Rush Limbaugh lied to you about global warming all along. Your congressmen and senators lied about global warming. Some of them had adequate educations and should have known better. Many of them probably even do know better. It is only when the normal people -- the mass of voters -- start demanding some action because otherwise their way of life is doomed, only then will the political mess get a little better. And at that point, we can have a debate about what to do that won't be driven almost entirely by the Democratic and independent sides.
One other point to be made: Commenters on the left have looked at how the heat dome is being reported all over the country. Interestingly, there is finally some admission, at least in some of the stories, that the severity of the heat is partly due to climate change. Considering that the right wing has denied climate change for the past 25 years, this might be considered progress. Put it this way -- it is getting hard to pretend that there is no such thing.
When I took a look at some of the stories, I noticed another point that some of those same lefty observers took note of. The stories don't generally use the term global warming. Apparently this is too much of a stretch towards honesty, and could (they think) lead to some nasty blowback. Perhaps after we've had a couple more category 5 hurricanes land within our borders, the reality will be harder to avoid.
And that, readers, is the modern version of schadenfreude. It's the realization that people will have to feel the effects of their behavior before they are moved to take action. This does not mean that the rest of us should cheer for such horrors, but it does encompass the realization that some people don't have the mental circuits to learn from other peoples' calculations, but can only learn from their own mistakes. It turns out that listening to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News (and taking them seriously) was one of those mistakes.
One additional point. Carbon dioxide and oxygen are the two gases that form a critical cycle among living organisms. This is a subject for another time, but it is true that carbon dioxide is taken up by plants to build those plants, and oxygen is given off as a byproduct, even as we of the animal kingdom use that oxygen for our own purposes.
The fact that plants can deal with higher CO2 levels has been used as an argument by the right wing that increasing CO2 is OK. They claim that we will have more trees and grass, and that's it.
This ignores (intentionally, I think) that CO2 has other effects beyond its place in the cycle of life. Yes, CO2 is necessary for the existence of plant life, but too much CO2 has effects that have nothing to do with plant life and are severely harmful.
So let's attempt to communicate with the red state community about the increasingly obvious existence of global warming, its current dangers, and its more catastrophic future.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)