There is widespread agreement that the most important environmental issue that our generation faces is our changing climate. In fact, it might be the single most pressing issue that we must tackle in our lifetimes. Fortunately, Americans—at least most Americans—are waking up to the hard truth.
According to a recent national poll by Pew Research Center, 67% of Americans have accepted the fact that our planet has been warming over the past several decades at alarming rates. This is good news, because this is in line with the overwhelming scientific consensus on the question, and so we’re at least on the same page as science.
However, an alarming number of Republicans still continue to deny reality and insist that climate change is some type of liberal fraud perpetrated by the Democratic Party. In fact, among the Republicans who identify with the Tea Party, only one out of four think that climate change is a real phenomenon and only 9% think it is caused by humans. Those are small numbers when contrasted with the 84% of Democrats who acknowledge the seriousness of climate change for what it is.
Republicans might be sleeping comfortably thinking that this is just a theoretical discussion, but they couldn't be more mistaken. The truth is that we’ve already paid an extremely high cost for our disregard for the environment, and the stakes are only going to get higher the longer we wait.
According to recent findings reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, over the last four decades there has been a sharp increase in the number of natural disasters around the world. We’ve been hit hard in America as of late, but it’s far from being just about us—in the last twenty years, natural disasters have adversely affected on average over 200 million people around the world.
If we don’t start paying attention to climate-related disasters, scientists warn that it’s only going to get worse. Republican climate-change deniers should pay special attention to this statistic: between the year 2000 and 2009, there were three times as many natural disasters as in the 1980s. The overwhelming majority of these disasters are connected with the changing climate.
Even if one doesn't accept the connection between past disasters and climate change, NASA scientists believe it is almost certain that it will have a dangerous impact on future disasters. If more than 9 out of 10 scientists polled by Pew know this to be true, why can’t the Republicans come around?
It’s time we started speaking in the language of Republicans when it comes to climate change: money. If we switch the paradigm away from abstract science—which clearly makes them uncomfortable—and switch the discussion to dollars and cents, maybe then they’ll come around. According to the World Bank, natural disasters have cost the world $3.8 trillion just since 1980.
That astronomically high number is only going to get higher the longer we wait before taking meaningful policy action. As it stands now, the frequency of natural disasters make it seem like we should always be expecting one tomorrow, and anyone with the slightest foresight probably owns at least one bug out bag for their family in case of an emergency.
Republicans hate government spending, but the skyrocketing costs of disaster management can easily be prevented by passing substantial environmental reforms. Instead of attacking the EPA, the money-centric Tea Partiers should work with America’s leading scientists to ensure that we do whatever we can to prevent disasters before they occur. This means an acceptance of reality, tougher regulations, and a pledge to leave the divisive politics behinds and begin working with scientists across the spectrum.