Climate change will not wait for America to get its act together
One of the many awful aspects of living in the United States today is how the nation is beset on all sides with crises — severe inequality, corruption, political rot, and climate change, to pick just a few — while our politics is consumed by imaginary nonsense.
Donald Trump is openly using the presidency to line his pockets; 42 percent of American cancer patients lose their entire life savings; there are clockwork spree shootings across the country; and on and on. Still, great swathes of the country spend every waking minute simply seething with outrage over NFL protests, leftists on elite college campuses, handfuls of bedraggled refugees, and fruitcake conspiracy theories.
But climate change, at least, is not going to sit politely by while America sorts out its diseased politics. It's already here, and it's wrecking huge parts of the country.
The Missouri River has experienced record-breaking flooding over the past week, submerging massive chunks of the Midwest. At time of writing, at least three people have died, and the flood has caused billions in damages and crop losses. As Brian Kahn writes at Gizmodo, flood waters are also stripping away the region's topsoil, badly harming the future productive capacity of the land.
Notably, flood waters also deluged a key Air Force base, quickly outstripping military efforts to pile up sandbags. "Days into the flooding, muddy water was still lapping at almost 80 flooded buildings at Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base, some inundated by up to 7 feet of water," reports the Associated Press.
Offutt is the home of Strategic Command, which helps oversee America's nuclear stockpile. Its "responsibilities include strategic deterrence; nuclear operations; space operations; joint electronic spectrum operations; global strike; missile defense; and analysis and targeting." The Strategic Command headquarters were not drowned, but it was a near thing.
The typical caveat for climate and weather applies here: One can never draw a direct line between warming temperatures and a single weather event, because that's not how climate works. No matter how severe, one flood, heat wave, or snowstorm does not prove or disprove the reality of climate change. Instead, warming conditions change the background likelihood of weather disasters.
This Midwest flooding is just the type of thing we should expect to occur more often as the planet warms. It happened due to heavy winter snows, followed by the unusual "bomb cyclone" storm that saturated already-waterlogged soil in eastern Nebraska with unseasonable winter rains — while unseasonably warm temperatures led to an early snowmelt. Forecasters predict the flooding will get much worse later this year.
But this latest climate disaster demonstrates how absolutely crack-brained the Republican approach to climate policy is. Climate change is right now devastating America's agricultural land, infrastructure, and cities. Flood waters are at the doors of the actual nuclear command bunker — for the second time in a decade. It's going to get much worse if we don't do anything.
And yet President Trump is cracking jokes about global warming being fake, and Republican state policymakers are setting up an ersatz Brown New Deal to save uneconomical coal power plants so they can keep spewing greenhouse gases (not to mention deadly heavy metals, sulfur and nitrous oxides, and particulate pollution).
A greater failure of governance is almost impossible to imagine.
Of course, other countries are going to have it considerably worse than the comparatively wealthy United States. Earlier this month, southeast Africa was slammed by Cyclone Adai, one of the worst such storms on record, which devastated Mozambique (where the city of Beira, population 534,000, was 90 percent destroyed), Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. The death toll at time of writing was over 500, with hundreds more certainly to come.
But Americans are fooling ourselves if we think we'll escape unscathed just because our country has money. Even rich celebrities aren't immune, as seen in Malibu recently, where the luxury mansions of multiple A-list actors were burned down by wildfire.
National wealth provides the potential to ameliorate the harms of climate change or, better still, to head it off before disaster strikes. But you have to actually do something with that wealth for it to be of any help. The GOP isn't doing anything. Instead, the Republican Party — still in control of the Senate and the presidency, and in a state of utter moral and intellectual degeneracy — will do everything it can to make things worse.