The world’s leaders are in France over the next couple of weeks to debate what ought to be done about climate change.
Organizers say the United Nations Conference on Climate Change is “crucial because the expected outcome is a new international agreement on climate change, applicable to all. So it would be up to each country to figure out how to reach their own climate goals.
That’s the word from the United Nations. But in the United States, climate change, or global warming, highlights a deep political division between most Democrats and most Republicans. The conservative National Review put it this way: “Republicans have already made it clear that the Senate will not ratify any agreement Obama makes requiring either steep, economy-killing, greenhouse-gas emission reductions or climate payoffs to developing countries.”
What if we could vote on the choices ahead? What if climate change (and the alternative courses) could be presented on a ballot? Unfortunately that’s not likely to happen because of the politics of geography. Some of the Republicans facing re-election in states like Maine or Illinois are closer to the Obama administration than their own party. And, in states like Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota, there are few Democrats keen on a climate referendum. Most Democrats in energy states run on the pretense that the country doesn’t have to make hard decisions about jobs and the environment.
In Paris, Monday, the president said the United States is ready to lead on climate change and he called for a 32 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2030.
The debate in Congress — and in Paris, for that matter — is mostly about the science of human contributions to global warming and how to reduce that. Tribes and Alaska villages face a different problem: the actual, on the ground, impacts of climate change.
Last February, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn testified that tribes are already experiencing “the impacts of a changing climate including drought, intensifying wildfires, changes in plants and animals important to subsistence and cultural practices, impacts to treaty and trust resources, and coastal erosion and sea level rise.”
Washburn said climate change will be costly, some $50.4 million (a $40.4 million increase over 2015). That kind of spending will not be an easy sell to a Congress that wants to dismiss climate change as wacky science. But extreme weather will not be so easily shunted aside. States At Risk, a new report says states (and therefore tribes) are not ready for the risks associated with climate change.
“Extreme weather will be even more extreme in the future and preparedness plans that fail to take this into account will fall short, perhaps tragically so,” the report found.
This is how the election debate will change — even in pro-energy states. I think this could happen in a couple of ways. First, the number of jobs is already shrinking, making it much easier to be critical of industry (both for companies’ environmental and safety practices). And, second, there is now the growing issue of cost. Climate change is going to be expensive and the impact of extreme weather is a cost that taxpayers cannot avoid. No matter what happens in Paris.
I am Mark Trahant reporting.