At one of the largest gatherings of world leaders, 147 heads of virtually every nation on Planet Earth met together in one location this week to discuss one specific issue: What can we do to reverse the inevitable destruction that’s in store if we continue our current generation of greenhouse gases? After the leaders departed they left their minions to roll up their sleeves, do the heavy lifting and negotiate in earnest.
Everybody at the Paris Summit concurs that climate change is real and primarily human-induced. The only questions up for debate are related to whether or not it’s already too late, how quickly we must act, what goals are necessary and appropriate to turn things around, and what breakdown of responsibilities/obligations between the developing and developed nations is equitable and realistic?
The latter is one of the most contentious issues as it directly impacts opportunities for developing nations to improve their economic well-being, standard of living, and quality of life. It is an incredibly complex challenge in which the devil is the details of the plan for shared sacrifice. The mood is somber but hopeful. But the fact that world leaders are finally determined to address climate change in a serious, unified manner is an historical milestone equal in significance to the talks that led to nuclear disarmament.
President Obama has made climate change an important initiative and because of Congressional intransigence (what else is new?) is using his executive powers to shape policy through Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulemaking. He supports stringent reductions in greenhouse gas production with strong goals that aim to reduce these emissions 32% by 2030. In 2013 EPA established much tighter standards for CO2 emissions in all new power plants and in August of this year, under the Clean Power Plan established tighter restrictions on existing plants. Many climate scientists believe the plan does not go far enough or push the transition to green energy fast enough.  To his credit though, the President understands and borrowing from the words of Martin Luther King has stated:
“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change. The science tells us we have to do more.”
Nevertheless, it is a start and Obama has used his bully pulpit to push hard for a meaningful international effort as evidenced by his leadership at the Paris Climate Summit.
Meanwhile back on Capitol Hill, the Climate Change Denial Party, aka Republicans couldn’t wait to pass several bills to undercut Obama’s environmental initiative. Fortunately they weren’t able to muster the votes to override a presidential veto but their main motivation (as has been their modus operandi since he was sworn into office) appeared to be to embarrass Obama on the world stage. The top two Republican presidential candidates staunchly refuse to recognize that climate change is real. In contrast to 97 – 99% of the scientific community, Trump states:
“I’m not a believer in global warming. And I’m not a believer in man-made global warming. It could be warming and it’s going to start to cool at some point.”
Ted Cruz told Glenn Beck that:
“Climate change is not science. It’s religion…the language of the global warming alarmists, ‘denier’ is the language of religion, it’s heretic, you are a blasphemer.”
And in response to Obama’s statement that climate change is our most challenging issue, Cruz had this to say:
“[He] apparently thinks having an SUV in your driveway is more dangerous than a bunch of terrorists trying to blow up the world”.
Those Republicans who don’t outright deny climate change have belittled its significance. GOP Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, member of the Senate Committees on Environment and Public Works and Energy and Natural Resources said the other day:
“While the president is at this climate conference, the American people have that as a very, very low priority. They are focused on jobs, the economy, and terrorism.”
This is nothing but the same old tired, knee-jerk, out-of-touch, right wing rhetoric they’ve been preaching for years. The truth is however, according to a Yale/Gallop Poll, the vast majority of Americans (62%) believe that global warming is an urgent threat requiring immediate and drastic action and almost half (48%) feel global warming is already having dangerous impacts on people. A Pew Research poll in 2014 indicated that 71% of Americans felt the government should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.
And oh by the way, while there remains room for improvement on jobs and the economy, there has been steady improvement throughout President Obama’s tenure. According to FactCheck.org, during Obama’s first six years in office, the U.S. has added nearly five times more jobs than it did during the entire eight years under President George W. Bush. And short of adopting the usual xenophobic paranoia the GOP is dishing out on terrorism, the Obama administration has actually taken a comparatively hawkish stand in battling ISIS with bombings, drone strikes, and ever increasing numbers of military advisors on the ground in the Mideast.
Not one of the entire field of Republican presidential candidates has come out in favor of the current international collaboration on climate change. Even Chris Christie, considered to be one of the more moderate of the GOP candidates said:
“I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it…[but] I don’t buy the fact that it’s a crisis and haven’t seen any evidence of that.”
Carly Fiorina has acknowledged that climate change is a serious issue but dismisses it because the U.S. cannot solve the problem unilaterally. If so, why the hell isn’t she supporting the current summit that seeks to set international goals and expectations?
To partially counter the negative effects of the GOP led Congress, a group of ten Democratic senators joined Al Gore in Paris to demonstrate support for Obama and the U.S. commitment to the war on climate change. Ed Markey (D – MA) proclaimed:
“What you see here are people who are going to protect what the president is putting on the table here in Paris as a promise from the American people to the world. We are going to back up the president every step of the way.”
So as President Obama and the Democrats have joined the rest of the world in a united fight to save the planet as we know it, once again the GOP rhetoric and actions indicate they are living in an alternate universe, where science and objective facts are irrelevant. It’s never been more clear that their policies represent the interests of the billionaire energy sector over the interests, well-being and ultimately the very future of billions of the world’s people.
The events this week reminded me of a folk song that moved me as a young child. “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” written by Ed McCurdy and made popular by Pete Seeger, the Weavers, and others describes the utopian celebratory scene after the leaders of the world have all agreed to put an end to war. And like the most frigid days of the Cold War when we stared down nuclear annihilation, the Doomsday clock ticks on. We literally have no time to waste in putting an end to the Climate Change War and making the dream of a sustainable, clean environment a reality for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come .
 David Biello, “How Far Does Obama’s Clean Power Plan Go in Slowing Climate Change?” Scientific American, Aug. 6, 2015