America is Having the Wrong Debate on Climate Change
By Megan Shaw
Driving down I-695 with my friend over winter break, we noticed something strange: The snow that had been predicted for the day had transformed into a thick, eerie layer of fog with fat raindrops, which were now rolling down the windshield of the car. I glanced up at the rearview mirror, which displayed the external temperature — it was January 12th and it was 58 degrees in Baltimore. I commented on the unusual nature of the weather, and how strangely warm it had been lately. “Global warming,” my friend joked, laughing a little.
Though one warm winter day is hardly indicative of undeniable massive global climate change, the changes in weather patterns over the past few years have been somewhat staggering. We’ve all seen that picture of a polar bear floating away in a river of what was once a polar ice cap, clinging to the last bit of ice, or have listened to a commercial or lecture on the effects of human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs). Artists like Prince have sung about the depletion of the ozone layer, and every election cycle since 1996, the Green Party of the United States has offered up a presidential candidate who runs on the platform of environmental protection.
However, despite the widespread information about climate change available to the average American citizen, serious intervention to prevent catastrophic environmental disaster has faced many obstacles. In a 2011 study done by George Mason University, of a sample of nearly 500 prominent climate scientists, 97 percent acknowledged an increase in the earth’s average temperature in the past hundred years, only 5 percent did not agree with the assessment that climate change was at least partially induced by human behavior, and 85 percent believed that the effects of global warning could cause moderate to great danger.
Ice is melting, sea levels are rising and species are dying, yet discussion of global warming and climate change remains deeply partisan. Conservative voices such as Rush Limbaugh and Stuart Varney brush off claims of global warming by pointing to examples of colder weather, such as the recent snow in Jerusalem. Despite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reporting that the summer of 2012 was the third-warmest on record for the continental United States, Fox News anchor David Asman claimed, in response to a question concerning climate change, that “it’s getting colder.”
In 2011, every Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted down an amendment that stated the existence of global warming, regardless of whether or not it is man-made. This is absurd, flying in the face of all available evidence collected over the past century. There is no debate to be had about whether or not climate change is a real problem; the real debate should be what we are going to do to solve it.
With natural catastrophes such as Hurricane Sandy, the matter of climate change has been put on the forefront of many Americans’ minds, especially those living on the East Coast, and in other areas seriously affected by this and other recent natural disasters. With an estimated death toll around 150 people, $20 billion in property damage and millions of people left without electricity for weeks, climate change has taken on a very real, tragic face. And, while sources such as Scientific American concede that global warming is not the direct cause of “superstorms” like Hurricane Sandy, they do have evidence supporting the claim that climate change is making such storms bigger.
In the aftermath of Sandy’s catastrophic effects, climate change is once again on America’s brain. The New York Times reports that a Siena College poll finds that 69 percent of New York voters believe that Hurricane Sandy “demonstrate[s] global climate change rather than representing isolated weather events.” People are beginning to talk seriously about what role the government needs to have in climate change intervention, and how humans can reduce their negative effect on the Earth. And, as demonstrated in the recent poll of New Yorkers, or even a bad joke on the Baltimore Beltway, global warming is again part of our active consciousness. Now, with this consciousness, hopefully we will find ourselves capable of doing something about it.