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Climate change denial is a dangerous path: Why Washington needs to restart the discussion now

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Tribune News Service Illustration

Brandon Amato, Opinion Editor

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Last week my dad told me he was heading out to play a round of golf on a sunny afternoon. My father happens to be very bald. As a good son, I naturally urged him to wear sunscreen. He dismissed my advice as “overprotective” and “dramatic.” When he texted me the next day about his unbearably itchy, raw, sunburnt head, I laughed triumphantly and boasted “I told you so.” Sure, he was suffering, but the suffering wasn’t enough to refrain from momentarily basking in self-righteous victory. We all know the feeling you get when you tell someone “I told you so.” 

However, former Vice President Al Gore’s “I told you so” story plays out a lot differently than most. His “I told you so” story ends not in a stubborn, sunburnt parent and his smug, taunting son. It invariably ends in widespread disaster, displacement and death. Surely Gore does no laughing or basking, but rather he shakes his head year after year as politicians disregard his campaigns to raise public awareness of global warming, much like my father disregarded my advice.

Meanwhile, despite Gore and others’ best efforts for over a decade, Houstonians are still today drowning in the sorrow of lost friends, family members and homes. Floridians are adrift in their cities, searching for a place to call home. East Coast residents are buying out stores’ reserves of bottled water as they prepare for storms that are building in the Atlantic Ocean. And we won’t even get into the disasters that have affected so many people in the Gulf and the Caribbean. The bottom line is that too many are grieving losses and managing fear caused by natural disasters that have undoubtedly been exacerbated by human activity contributing to global warming.

As I tune into the news day after day and watch as women and children are airlifted from the roofs of their homes, clinging desperately to small metal cages being pulled into helicopters, or as flash flooding turns cars and trucks into massive bath toys, I can’t help but ask myself how we have not done more to heed Gore’s warnings. He showed us the numbers. He showed us the pictures. His not one, but two Hollywood movies he created, “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) and “An Inconvenient Sequel” (2017), serve up scientific evidence on a silver platter that we need to pay attention to the destructive effects of global warming. I won’t inundate you with that science in this article except to assure you of the straightforward physical relationship between a warming atmosphere – in other words “global warming” – and extreme rainfall potential – “tropical cyclones, hurricanes, monsoons, etc.”

I will never understand how politicians, in the face of irrefutable scientific evidence and countless natural disasters, continue to dismiss this issue. Take Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during the release of Gore’s first movie, as an example of the political buffoonery to which I’m alluding. In 2006, Inhofe compared Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” to Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf.” “If you say the same lie over and over again, and particularly if you have the media’s support, people will believe it,” he said. Rush Limbaugh, as he is apt to do, perpetuated this irresponsible and ridiculous theory just a few Mondays ago when he seemed to suggest that hurricanes were a liberal conspiracy intended to convince the public that climate change is real. “Hurricane Harvey and the TV pictures that accompany that go a long way to helping further and create the panic.”

I’d like to think that 11 years of data, research, and experience would have made the discourse on climate change shift toward acknowledgment that: 1) we indeed are responsible for exacerbating a very serious problem; and 2) we need to take steps toward saving our planet and all its inhabitants.

Boy, was I wrong! Instead we see talking heads like Limbaugh say things on his radio show like “[Gore] couldn’t be more wrong” about climate change. Even worse, we see an administration led by Donald Trump – one of the biggest climate deniers of them all – pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement earlier this year, continuing to dismiss the effects of human activities affecting our environment, and to top it all off, suggesting that it isn’t the right time to raise the “divisive and politicized” issue of global warming (CNN).

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, said in a Sept. 6 interview with CNN that she hopes Congress “puts politics aside” and quickly approves funding for Harvey disaster relief. I think Conway is right; we all hope and, frankly, expect Congress to do just that. But what she fails to acknowledge is the crucial fact that Congress can do that while simultaneously having the conversation about why storms like Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria happen in the first place! Earth to Conway, a relief-based response to the storm-ravaged parts of our country and a reform-based response to the short-sighted actions taken by world leaders – the U.S. at the top of that list – are not mutually exclusive! Take it from FDR’s New Deal “Three R’s”: Relief, Recovery, Reform. It’s a fine place to start.

My main point is that we cannot keep kicking the can down the road. The issue is as real as it gets right now. People are in a state of chaos and confusion. News crews across the globe are trained squarely on the devastation. The world looks on as ordinary people risk life and limb to save their husbands, wives, children, pets and even strangers. What we need to do is stop pretending that talking about climate change would be “politicizing” the disaster and start taking a proactive approach to saving future generations from the horror caused by these mitigatable natural events.

Maybe it’s too late for our generation to see the effects of reversing climate change. Maybe natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes will continue to devastate the world and its inhabitants long after we’ve left this planet. But it certainly is worth setting our political and social differences aside, eradicating irresponsible denial of climate change, and taking a proactive approach to reversing the dangerous trajectory we’ve set ourselves on in the past couple centuries.

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Climate change denial is a dangerous path: Why Washington needs to restart the discussion now