A group of leaders inside the U.S. Capitol is intent on pulling us apart just when we need to pull together to face the threat of climate change.
The latest evidence of this was Tuesday's vote on the $51 billion Superstorm Sandy relief bill. One hundred seventy-nine House Republicans opposed the measure to provide rebuilding and other aid to storm-damaged communities, including every Republican from our region except Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores. Overall only 49 Republicans were in support. In contrast, only one Democrat, a blue dog from Tennessee, voted "no."
Anyone remember the 1975 New York Daily News headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead"? This was redux.
The lawmakers who stood with storm victims also are generally those who accept climate science and are open to adopting strategies to combat climate change and its effects. The lawmakers opposed to the aid are generally deniers of manmade climate change who care more about protecting guns than the environment. This group of largely of red-state Republicans has demonstrated towering ignorance and indifference to the climate challenges ahead.
They may claim that their "no" votes were cast in the name of deficit frugality, but they are really signs of uninterest in helping a largely Democratic region cope with the effects of climate change. Some of the funding in the aid package (though not nearly enough) is going toward projects like flood control systems that strengthen defenses against already extreme weather that is predicted to intensify. The message from the bill's opponents is clear: "We don't have your back."
You would think there would be a little more gratitude by red staters. Eight of the 10 states that receive the most federal money relative to what they send to Washington are red states, according to the Tax Foundation. The blue states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where much of the Sandy aid is going, are among those receiving the least federal funding compared to what they contribute.
In recent years Republicans have made an irresponsible shift away from accepting climate science. In 2008, the Republican Party platform actually called for "market-based solutions that will decrease emissions" to address effects on climate. But within four years that concern vanished. The party's 2012 platform was openly hostile to government efforts to reduce climate change. It demanded that Congress prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, flatly opposed "cap and trade" and raised sidelong doubts about the science of climate change, calling the cause of weather events "uncertain."
It is worth noting that 86 Republicans who voted "no" on Sandy relief were also part of the bloc opposed to a 2009 cap-and-trade bill to limit greenhouse gases. The bill passed the then-Democrat-controlled House but was shelved before reaching a vote in the Senate.
As evidence of the effect of climate change mounts, red state Republicans have become less convinced of its existence and are less willing to do anything about it. But their determined blindness will be short-lived. The American public is beginning to realize what is behind Sandy and some of the other 25 U.S. natural disasters over the last two years that have each caused at least $1 billion in damage. Complaining that climate scientists are liberal shills with wild-eyed predictions about rising seas doesn't work when your audience is wearing hip boots.
Recently climate change communication expert Anthony Leiserowitz, appearing on the PBS show Moyers & Company, compared a small rise in the earth's temperature to that in a human body. It only takes a rise of 4 or 5 degrees Fahrenheit in internal body temperature for organ systems to start shutting down, and the earth's climate is headed for a similar increase. The just-released U.S. Climate Assessment warns of an inconceivable 9 to 15 degree rise in temperature throughout most of America in this century, if current emission levels remain the same.
This is a national emergency, and the 179 Republicans and one Democrat who rejected Superstorm Sandy aid are MIA. They don't seem to understand or care that all our fates are inextricably linked.