Martin Dyckman: Our leaders fiddle (and avoid comment) while the world burns

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The dinosaurs and many lesser species became extinct in the blink of an archaeological moment some 65 million years ago. Scientists attribute that to an asteroid more than six miles wide striking the earth with climate-changing force.

That was a warning.

Our solar neighborhood is still perilous, teeming with asteroids. Smaller ones strike earth with the force of nuclear weapons roughly twice a year.

A non-profit sky-watching foundation headed by former astronaut Ed Lu announced last month that 26 were detected exploding in earth’s atmosphere from 2000 to 2013, including the one over Russia last year that injured more than 1,000 people.

Lu’s organization, the B612 Foundation, is raising funds to launch an infrared space telescope that might warn years in advance of the next one large enough to level a city or destroy all life on earth. Ground-based telescopes are already in the hunt.

But what if one is seen headed our way? Will the warning be heeded?

Judging by the current indifference to global warming, the answer to that question would be “No.”

The industries that are blocking solar and wind power and limits on taxes on carbon emissions would oppose the taxes necessary to divert a killer asteroid. They’d persuade gullible voters and craven politicians that the astronomers were simply wrong.

People who think that what they can’t see can’t hurt them are being played for fools by the Koch billionaires and other petrochemical oligarchs who profit from the status quo and care not for what happens to the world after they have plundered it.

The tragic fact is that climate change can be seen and it is hurting people everywhere.

An early warning — quite apart from scientific measurements — came in summer 2003. An unprecedented, prolonged heat wave in France killed more than 10,000 people, most of them elderly.

Such abnormal, tragic weather disasters have become the new norm worldwide: record flooding and pervasive droughts, spreading insects and diseases, stronger and more frequent hurricanes and tornadoes, and seas rising inexorably, not just because glaciers are melting, but because warmer water expands.

Civilization will be shattered. Crop failures, famines, plagues and wars fought over dwindling resources are predicted consequences. The cost of bulkheading coastal cities and elevating roads and airports will be astronomical.

As the National Climate Assessment warned last week, low-lying Florida is in greater danger than any other state. At Miami Beach, the New York Times noted, seawater already floods streets from the storm sewers even when there’s no storm. The sea level there is expected to rise 2 feet by 2060 and by as much as 4 feet by the end of the century.

But when the newspaper tried to interview Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio about the threat to their state, they declined.

In a subsequent interview on “This Week,” Rubio declared he is ready to be president and then disproved it by doubting that humans are causing climate change “the way these scientists are portraying it.”

He says the economy can’t afford to cope as they recommend. The truth is that it can’t afford not to.

The banality of such willful dunces as Rubio reflects both the Koch money and the ignorance among that half of Republican voters who don’t believe climate change is real.

“So obtuse has become the party’s dialogue on climate change that it’s now been reduced to believing or not believing, as if it were a religious mantra,” former Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., wrote in the New York Times last week.

If it isn’t a sin to be ignorant and foolish, it surely is one to cynically exploit that ignorance and foolishness for the sake of pumping more oil, digging more coal, fracking more gas, and generating even more excess carbon from the Canadian tar sands.

It’s also a sin to betray the world’s future for the sake of that next election.

The Koch brothers and their allies in environmental crime are now behind efforts in various state legislatures to tax solar energy panels and surtax solar power that homes and businesses might sell back to the utility monopolies.

This outrageous strategy is being spread by — no surprise — the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.

Although ALEC has long been to public policy as Typhoid Mary was to public health, this scheme is a new low.

On second thought, we might as well not worry about killer asteroids. Climate change will get us first.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Martin Dyckman


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