Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Are humans deer in the headlights?

The election is over. Now President Obama and Congress are arguing over how to avoid the fiscal cliff, the combination of tax increases and potentially draconian federal budget cuts that will be triggered automatically if lawmakers fail to craft and approve a different plan.

But there’s another cliff that’s getting precious little attention from government: the climate cliff.

Candidates treated climate change like the third rail of politics during the fall campaigns. If it was mentioned at all in most stump speeches, it was merely a footnote eclipsed by concern about the economy. Yet, it may be the biggest issue mankind has ever faced, second only to our ability to destroy the globe with nuclear weapons.

Anyone with eyes and some historical data now can see that the polar ice caps are melting, opening up new sea lanes and contributing to rising sea levels.

Shellfish are showing the effects of higher acid levels in the oceans, which threaten larvae survival and cause thinner shells. Ocean acidification is occurring as the result of higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and polluted water discharged into the ocean. Only Washington state has begun to explore what might be done to reverse it.

A new study of the world’s forests released this week shows they are in danger of dying off and being replaced with grasslands as drought becomes more widespread as a result of climate change. That’s not news to anyone in the West who has seen forests devastated by mountain pine beetles and ravaged by wildfires.

New York and New Jersey have announced their tallies of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Those states say they may need more than $70 billion to repair the damage and rebuild, and they insist that they will be unable to do so without federal help.

If it were foreign enemies that were inflicting this damage on the nation, our leaders would be calling upon the Department of Defense to come up with a plan to fight them. Not so with climate change.

The federal government’s efforts on climate change have been puny and fragmented despite something called the Environmental Protection Agency. The nation has no cohesive plan to roll back climate change, adapt to the effects of climate change or to pay for such efforts.

It’s time we did. We’ve ignored and deflected action on the issue long enough. President Obama should invest some political capital and get the nation and the world moving to respond to the emergence of climate change.

Otherwise, in the face of this threat, we humans are likely to fare no better than deer in the headlights of an oncoming train.

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