Republican National Convention Ironies, 2012
The Republican National Convention has presented more than a few ironies this year.
The first, most-widely discussed irony was posed by Hurricane Isaac. Having delayed the convention by a day or so, it pinned Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal at home, where he so overcame his aversion to Federal disaster aid to states as to tell President Obama, Oliver Twist-like, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
But greater ironies lurk just slightly deeper. While the delegates were alternately learning the Horatio Alger biographies of speakers’ beloved family members, and being ritualistically asked whether they prefer America prosperous and free or weak and debt-ridden, more than three-quarters of the country was experiencing some degree of drought.
In fact, drought was affecting 85% of the U.S. corn crop, 83% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 71% of cattle areas. Corn prices were up 142%, and soybeans 127%. Crop insurance payments—funded by the taxpayer—may reach $20 billion.
In the West, yet another brutal fire season is still in full swing. So far, a reported 7 million acres have burned, eclipsing the 2006 record. Federal and State firefighting budgets have been exceeded—the Federal budget by about 50% so far, with reported costs to date reaching around $1.4 billion. More than 700 homes have been destroyed.
Underlying these realities is a record-warm year for the lower 48 states. 2012 brought the warmest July ever observed, surpassing the 1936 record. The year to date is likewise the warmest ever, and so is the most recent 12 month period. Such heat increases evaporation, which dries soils and plants, encouraging drought and wildfire.
Heat hasn’t been limited to the continental US, though. In the far North, the Arctic sea ice pack is plummeting to a seasonal minimum far lower than anything seen by humans. Last season’s minimum volume, as estimated by the University of Washington’s PIOMAS model, had already declined by 75%. This year’s volume will be much lower, and there is no end to this trend in sight. An sea ice “death spiral” appears to be an Arctic reality.
This ice loss will lead to more heating, as reflective ice is increasingly replaced by absorptive seawater, bringing more solar energy into the Earth system. And there is developing research suggesting that Arctic heating also leads to a slower, “wavier” Jet Stream.
Such a Jet Stream seems to bring more extreme weather events. With weather systems ‘blocked’ in one place for longer periods of time, we suffer floods like the 2010 Pakistani disaster, heat-waves like the lethal Russian event the same year—or agricultural disasters like America’s Drought of 2012.
The speakers at the RNC have expressed their concern for the future fiscal well-being of America’s kids in the most heart-warming terms. Vice-Presidential candidate Ryan has pledged that “I accept the calling of my generation to give our children the America that was given to us, with opportunity for the young and security for the old.” But where is the concern for the environment those kids will inhabit? Where is the recognition that a healthy economy must rest upon a healthy environment?
As recently as 2008, the Republican Party platform included a plank on the need to reduce fossil fuel use and to control greenhouse gas emissions. This year, the energy policy is to take “advantage of all our American God-given resources”—that is, “Drill, baby, drill” writ large. Emissions control via cap-and-trade is explicitly repudiated, and a carbon tax is unthinkable. The EPA is to be stripped of the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. This neatly eliminates all avenues to control greenhouse emissions.
The party doesn’t even want to know about possible dangers: climate change, now recognized as a ‘severe threat’ in the National Security Strategy, is to be demoted or eliminated from that document. And recent Republican initiatives to defund climate-related research and to forbid Federal agencies to consider the effects of climate change in their planning processes speak louder than any mere Party platform can.
This shouldn’t surprise. The rise of the Tea Party has meant a rise in Republican anti-science rhetoric and attitudes as well. It is now routine to see the reasoned conclusions of thousands researchers dismissed as mere rent-seeking, or even as political conspiracy. GOP moderates, more open to common sense positions, have retired or been forced out. John Huntsman’s admission that he believed climate science’s conclusions was a campaign liability—a liability Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan carefully avoided.
Unfortunately, this leaves the Party and its leadership oblivious to the costs that climate change is imposing today, much less the vastly greater costs to come. So oblivious, in fact, that Mr. Romney could use climate change as a joke in his acceptance speech. “Four years ago, President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans…” he said—waited for the laugh.
The Tampa delegates are energized and full of visceral conviction, and their energy combines with the Convention’s folksy rhetoric, emotional appeal, and slick production to make a captivating media show. It may fairly be said that the GOP is hot right now.
But it’s America that is burning.
Other climate-change Hubs by Doc Snow
- Global Warming Science In The Age Of Washington And Jefferson: William Charles Wells
Some argue that greenhouse warming is thermodynamically impossible. But observations and experiments going back as much as 350 years tell a different story. Among the first to study radiation in the atmosphere was an unassuming Scots-English doctor.
- Fire From Heaven: Climate Science And The Element Of Life--Part Two, The Cloud By Night
The solar 'fire' sustains us--but it's not just the direct solar radiation we need; there's also the less intense 'fire' of thermal radiation from the atmosphere, often called 'backradiation.'
- Broecker & Kunzig's "Fixing Climate": A Summary Review
Dr. "Wally" Broecker is a "grand old man" in the field of climate science, having correctly predicted the global warming trend we've all been living with back in 1975. Here's his story, and his take on what we should be doing, in an enhanced-content
- "Responsibility"; or "Driver, Boy and Girl"
A short story about responsibility, school buses, history, and burnings big and small. . . "Afternoon on a warm spring day in central Ontario, with a school bus dragging a dust plume up and down the county roads, bringing the high-schoolers back..."
- "Crystal Waters": A Meditation
Remember the Gulf oil spill? Probably not, unless you live there. There, the consequences still play out. Here's two reactions. Read, listen and remember.
- Through A Glass Darkly: Equinox Reflections On Sea Ice--2010 And Onwards
The Arctic sea ice is "the canary in the coal mine" of climate change. It's been changing relatively fast. What does it mean? And what has it been like to watch?
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