THE HILL 06/17/15
By Michael Shank and US Congressman Hank Johnson
It is time to talk honestly about science.
Americans are busy working, taking care of their kids and loved ones and trying to save for the future. It is understandable that many do not have time to read academic journals and detailed scientific reports.
In our system of government, representatives are elected to make decisions on key policy matters. But elected representatives are no different than the people who elect them. With a congressional district representing, on average, more than 700,000 constituents and hundreds of pressing issues, it can be hard to find time to consult with climate science experts or empirically analyze academic articles on climate change.
Elected representatives, however, have a unique responsibility to educate themselves about important policy matters. Ignorance is not an excuse, given the staff and other resources at the disposal of Congress. Worse, willful ignorance — often for crass political purposes — is a dereliction of duty and a disservice to the American people.
It is therefore inexcusable that some members of Congress and other politicians continue to ignore or plead ignorance to the irrefutable science, and dangers, of climate change.
We know the continued argument in their echo chamber, that the science is unclear or the dangers are not real, is a lie — a dangerous lie.
The science is clear. Already, 2015 is the hottest year to date and might top 2014 as the hottest year on record, and carbon dioxide has reached its highest level in 800,000 years. These record-breaking events are related: carbon dioxide and global temperatures are rising together, thanks to human activities.
With rising air and ocean temperatures, Arctic sea ice is rapidly disappearing and extreme weather is increasingly frequent and ferocious. We’re now witnessing more wildfires, more flooded coastlines and more heat waves. See India’s recent extreme heat, which has killed thousands and melted streets, and California’s record-breaking drought that is wreaking havoc on America’s produce capital.
This is happening here, now.
The dangers are real. Climate change is outpacing war as the greatest destabilizing force on the planet when it comes to humanitarian crises, creating tens of millions more refugees than current wars combined. Whether it is the rising sea levels that will consume entire countries or the fight over food, water and resources, climate change is threatening our security. It’s why President Obama chose to make this the headline issue in his recent Coast Guard commencement address.
Thwarting America’s ability to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing all this climate chaos, however, is a misinformation industry funded by entities that profit off fossil fuels and by billionaires using their outsized resources to purchase a political agenda aligned with their anti-government beliefs.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into phony think tanks and political coffers at the federal, state and local levels to protect the carbon economy.
Climate change is impacting every part of our society, from our security to our economy to our health. We know what’s causing it. And we know how to stop it. Yet a few bad actors are getting in the way, sowing doubt on the airwaves, doubling down on dirty energy and paying off politicians so that no one in Washington, D.C., dare lead us toward a healthier, more sustainable energy agenda.
This effort will not change the facts: that climate change is real, it is happening now, it is a threat to our national security and international peace, and burning fossil fuels causes it. Even the Pentagon and the president’s National Security Strategy have prioritized this threat. Yet in response, by funding political campaigns and phony think tanks, the misinformation industry seeks to sow mistrust in science and delay action.
Fortunately, there is bipartisan action among business leaders like Hank Paulson, Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, who are raising awareness nationally about the climate risks to every aspect of American business, and leadership by the president’s Climate Action Plan, which works to put our nation on the path toward a 30 percent reduction in carbon pollution from the power sector by 2030.
Members of Congress have heard enough about the science. And, as a society, we all know from our experience with the tobacco industry and other corporate entities how the powerful seek to stop progress.
But until Congress is willing to have an honest dialogue, our economy and our security continue to be imperiled.
It is time to talk honestly. Our climate is not for sale.
Johnson has represented Georgia’s 4th Congressional District since 2007. He sits on the Armed Services and the Judiciary committees. He is a member of the Safe Climate Caucus, and his lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters is 94 percent, the highest among his Georgia colleagues. Shank is director of media strategy at Climate Nexus, a strategic communications group dedicated to highlighting the wide-ranging effects of climate change and clean energy solutions in the United States.