Scientists, students and research advocates rallied on a soggy Earth Day in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, conveying a message about scientific freedom without political interference. (April 22) AP
Climate change deniers come in many forms. Some — including the president of the United States — argue the whole thing is a hoax fostered by nefarious figures. Others will concede a degree of warming that’s simply part of a global cycle that can’t be altered. Some acknowledge that man-made emissions may have contributed to the warming, but not enough to justify jumping through environmental hoops to try to counter the impact.
What all of those denial theories have in common, however, is a dismissive attitude toward the effects of climate change — if those effects even exist in the skeptics’ minds. Rising sea levels, extreme weather and polluted air and water will mostly be our grandchildren’s problem, not ours. So why hurt businesses now in response to a manufactured crisis?
That’s a convenient rationale, but it also ignores the reality that climate change is already harming us, a trend that won’t reverse itself through the magic of denial. That was a theme of a special roundtable discussion fronted by Rep. Frank Pallone last week that gathered together health and environmental experts just days ahead of Saturday’s annual Earth Day recognition.
Among the topics was the immediate impact of greenhouse gases on public health, including rising rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, more intense allergies and the threat of increased spread of infectious diseases. Chronically warmer temperatures — 15 of the hottest summers on record have occurred since 1999 — bring with them more heat-related illnesses and deaths, while more violent weather means more flooding and all of its related dangers.
The panel discussion was also timely in helping to raise awareness on the dangers presented by the Trump administration’s rejection of science. Trump has already taken steps to gut the federal Environmental Protection Agency, proposing a 30 percent budget cut and installing as its leader Scott Pruitt, himself a denier who exhibits little respect for the agency he now runs.
That all adds up to real danger to New Jersey, now and for generations to come. De-emphasizing environmental protections because climate-change impacts have been wildly exaggerated may sound reasonable to certain business interests with plenty to gain. But it also means dirtier air and water for all of us. Pollution from re-energized coal-burning plants will carry into our state. The fracking process to extract natural gas threatens to contaminate water supplies. Rolling back efforts to curb auto emissions will further clog our air. Contaminated land won’t be cleaned up. The list goes on and on.
What do we gain from these lighter environmental restraints? Lower energy costs in the short term, perhaps. That could translate into more business profitability and more jobs. That’s the Trump company line, at least. But that also ignores the losses incurred by curtailing the enormous potential of green-energy industries, and the incalculable damage to the environment. We’ll soon pay a catastrophic price for that lack of long-term vision. But apparently our grandchildren should be the ones to figure that out.
The denial community doesn’t only include the Area 51 crowd imagining shadowy figures behind every grassy knoll. It also includes more reasoned thinkers, scientists willing to consider and advocate a contrarian view. They believe humans simply can’t do enough to counter global warming to be worth the effort.
But to accept what even the most rational of deniers claim is to also assume that all of the scientists who believe in overwhelming numbers that climate change is real and exacerbated significantly by man-made emissions are either part of some grand conspiracy, or they’ve been universally duped. Neither argument is remotely defensible.
Combating climate change matters not only because we can potentially reduce the amount of global warming and its negative effects, but because the environmental initiatives required to do it offer countless other benefits as well. That shouldn’t be so difficult to understand, and accept.
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