I was at a hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee this week. It was supposed to be a routine budget hearing, but as is often the case with the new GOP majority, lawmakers turned a discussion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s fiscal 2016 budget into a debate on climate change.
Some GOP lawmakers have consistently clung to the belief that the science on climate change is not settled, and that claims that drastic measures are called for are overstated.
Maybe they should go to Antarctica. Shane Smith, director of the HBO series “Vice” and reporters from that show went to Antarctica and Bangladesh to see firsthand the effects of what is happening to our Earth’s climate.
The picture isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s downright scary. Scientists in the southern tip of South America and Antarctica are seeing whole glaciers separate and melt from icy continent, much in the way that Greenland has been steadily dissolving, significantly more rapidly than scientists had predicted. The melting of Antarctica and Greenland will lead to huge increases in sea rise, completely decimating low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.
And for people who live in Bangladesh, climate change isn’t some far-off scenario. It’s happening now. As in Alaska, formerly arable land is literally falling by dribs and drabs into the sea, and whole villages are being forced to relocate. One woman featured on the Vice episode, who had moved from her coastal village to a city already overcrowded with refugees, wondered tearfully, “What will happen to our children?”
The one quibble I had with the Vice episode is that it didn’t provide any solutions. Even Naomi Klein, in her book “This Changes Everything” suggests that there is a small window—a few short years-- where the worst effects could potentially be staved off with the right actions. Her suggestions are somewhat drastic, involving reallocating international resources and funds in a more equitable way—particularly focusing on the countries that are most at-risk, so that they have a fighting chance at survival.
Other, more centrist voices, like those who participated in the Climate Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., recently, suggest that many, many smart people are working hard to find solutions to reduce carbon emissions.
And many engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of this race, working to design and build net-zero and net-positive buildings, developing wind, geothermal and solar projects that can be scaled up and integrated into our electrical grids, and finding ways to make carbon capture and sequestration from coal plant emissions a reality.
The question is: can all this happen quickly enough? And the policy piece needs to be there, both in the U.S. and internationally.
At the March 4 Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), formerly the committee’s chair, took some cheer in the fact that the Senate voted pretty much unanimously in recent weeks that climate change is not a hoax and is real.
But I wish some lawmakers in the House and Senate would get out of their comfort zone and really study places like Antarctica, Greenland and Bangladesh and see for themselves what is happening. Or at least watch shows like the Vice episode on climate change, airing at 11 PM on HBO on Friday, March 6, or read Naomi Klein’s book, or talk to any number of people who are engaged in these issues and who are concerned, not just for themselves, but for humanity.