Last night, Mitt Romney--ever one to hem and haw his way into a promotion to President--doubled down on perhaps the most specious and hackneyed of 21st century Republican truisms: that our future is very much an ultimatum between the economy and the environment. It's a gamble, the argument goes, to protect the environment if it impedes economic growth.
Ironically, though, the very definition of economy is "how a society uses a scarcity of resources." To ignore that the computer you use contains rare minerals and precious metals that had to be extracted; or to ignore that the food you eat was likely shipped great distances by petroleum-based transportation; or to ignore the lush, carbon-sinking virgin forests being mowed down for livestock; or to ignore the neurological injuries from mercury in coal-fired power plants; or to ignore the changes to the ecological balance and their effects on the food supply; or to ignore the effect of the changes in salinity and alkalinity on the ocean currents; or to ignore the careful deliberation with which climate scientists have produced studies on carbon patterns and their affects on ice extents and global temperatures; is to flatly ignore, too, this very definition of economy. To ignore that the environment and economy are tied to each other, and that the environment is indeed the limiting reactant in the calculus that weighs the probability of human survival, is a quixotic fantasy. It's a fantasy where an endless bounty provides endless choices. There can be no sacrifices, because such sacrifices are not necessary and they inflict unnecessary damage. In this quixotic, naive logic of atavistic, albeit recent, conservative ideology, we can supposedly have it all. Such puerile thinking is like that of a child.
The scarcity we face is not in the availability of fossil fuels. We know full well now that there's enough oil, coal, and natural gas in the Athabasca tar sands, along the Orinoco River, in the Appalachian mountaintops, and elsewhere world wide for the most grueling of fracking and mining to incinerate the planet at a clip. The scarcity, then, is what is inversely proportional to fossil fuel emissions, and that is the carbon sinking forests, the albedo of the ice reflecting heat into space, and the ecological balance that has guaranteed more stable weather patterns and dependable food supplies. Entire cities, and indeed entire states and countries, have been founded on the climates and geographies their settlers perused and tried to understand several centuries ago. Predictable wildlife migrations, such as the brimming marine life that is born in the oxygen rich Gulf of Maine, fed by the Labrador Current's clash with the Gulf Stream, gave rise to thriving communities and cultures we hold dear today. Captain John Smith navigated the Chesapeake Bay with dewy-eyed journal entries about water so clear, he could see vast schools of fish.
Of fish we were best acquainted with sturgeon, grampus, porpoise, seals, stingrays ... brits, mullets, white salmon [rockfish], trouts, soles, perch of three sorts.These patterns now become less certain. Rainfalls are more extreme: too much or too little. Plants like neither. The dice are loaded now, and our conventions about the way the world works are changing even as our collective mindsets do not. We take for granted that the grocery store will be stocked. How will we ever expect to shatter the complacency about the intricate workings of that food bounty?
And so, in stark contrast to the cross-sectional Republican stance on this, the truly damning ultimatum over whether or not the environment should impede economic growth is a matter of how much the environment will be depleted, not protected. The economy cannot and will not survive "as is" when the environment yields and reacts to increasing stress. In the month of July, world food prices surged 10% while 2/3 of the lower United States wizened, wildlife died off, and wildfires birthed even more carbon emissions. In Needles, California, 115 degree rainfall: a world record. In Kuwait, a record is set for the hottest day in Asia. It's 2012, and it looks like hell on Earth.
And though, as of July, the United States is on the trajectory to shatter the record for its warmest year, North Carolina's state legislature effectively denied the presence of the Coriolis effect, its effect on sea levels, and thus pleaded with the Earth to reject its natural laws in favor of human laws. The Earth, though, she isn't listening. In fact, she cares not for polls that tilt one way or another on climate change. In the far north, the Arctic ice extent plunged to record lows, sinking to levels far preceding the 2007 record. An event which occurred in August--a full month before the close of the melt season (mid-September)--this has only piled on to a litany of evidence going decades into the past.
Against this backdrop, it is alarming to realize that another ultimatum, one which feedbacks to the economy-environment ultimatum we've just defined, is upon us. It is the choice of presidential candidates for the United States, and who is most likely to take climate change as a grave and fast-moving threat. Romney instigated the lowly ignorance of climate change denialism in his speech last evening at the Republican Convention. Though roughly 70% of Americans accept that climate change is occurring, a sizable portion of the remainder do not see it as an issue at all. Romney reached out to that remainder:
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet....To which the captive audience suddenly scoffed and booed sotto voce.
Until Romney went to the callback:
My promise is to help you and your family....And the crowd explodes with jubilee!
He implies that helping "you and your family" is mutually exclusive with the health of the planet. I can't imagine many families willing to gamble on an unstable climate to add to the list of things that are troubling Americans. But apparently, it was not long ago when then Governor Mitt Romney didn't see career ascension as the clarion call of the day (relatively speaking), but devastating climate change. In 2004, he issued the "Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan", which strongly identified the threat of climate change and detailed a way to address it.
The first page of the Plan well described Romney's view on how relevant improvements to the environment are in the context of climate change. Simply, we should have made these changes anyway, because it's beneficial in more ways than just climate change.
(page 3, Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan)
If climate change is happening, the actions we take will help. If climate change is largely caused by human actions, this will really help. If we learn decades from now that climate change isn’t happening, these actions will still help our economy, our quality of life and the quality of our environment.On monitoring greenhouse gases (page 14, Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan):
The same policies that protect the climate also promote energy efficiency, smart business practices, and improve the environment in which our citizens live and work. For Massachusetts, promoting climate protection in the Commonwealth and throughout our nation also promotes Massachusetts businesses that are at the forefront of the new markets for renewable energy technologies. Just as the brainpower of this state has been put to work by the nation and the world to develop the high-tech and biotech industries, we can also lead the nation in new energy technologies.
While all vehicles and buildings that burn fossil fuel generate GHGs, data is readily available from some sources and that data could and should be better tracked and monitored as an indicator of the state’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions, just as we collect and track data on other air emissions. Currently CO2 data is available for power plants and electricity suppliers, but there is no similar method of tracking annual GHG emissions from other facilities.It certainly is a far cry from the Republican House's shrieks for cuts to NOAA and NASA funding, agencies well equipped to monitor, analyze, and report GHG data.
Make no mistake, though, that contained in the same plan, Romney identified why this was a serious issue (page 6, Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan):
Weather extremes, already a characteristic of New England, are likelyThere's that word "economy" again.
to become more frequent and cause more damage under a changing climate. While no one storm is directly attributable to climate change, an increasing number of such events could become more commonplace, severely interrupting Bay State life and economic activity.
By 2100, a 5-9°F increase in global temperatures is forecast to double the rate of sea-level rise from 11 inches over the last century to 22 inches in this century.
Water shortages would, in turn, alter the natural fish populations in our rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, and saltwater could intrude in our coastal fresh water supplies.
A warmer, saltier ocean and changing coastal currents would alter coastal and marine ecosystems, affecting the distribution, growth rate, and survival of our commercial fish, shellfish, and lobster stocks.
While CO2 itself is non-toxic, its warming effects cause hotter weather with more
frequent and severe heat waves, posing multiple health risks that include a rise in heat-related illness, more frequent periods of harmful outdoor air quality, and the spread of certain diseases.
It would also likely alter the natural range of many different plants and animals. Over the long term, warming could intensify droughts and damage forest ecosystems.Heavy stuff, even for 2004 when our understandings were slightly less severe as now. But then, last evening, Mitt Romney established a darker, Machiavellian tone that threw all of that away.
His [Obama's] assault on coal and gas and oil will send energy and manufacturing jobs to China.Two weeks prior, Romney railed on Obama's "war on coal", despite all evidence of coal's filthy and fatal, externalized environmental costs.
He is therein prioritizing (misleadingly, of course) the economy over the environment, therein also suggesting a false choice which he himself contradicted (retroactively, to use a popular adverb) in 2004. (i.e. environmental protection is both good and necessary for the economy.)
Veiled in this stale right-wing boilerplate is the insidious consequence of Romney's turncoat anti-environmental crusade. Ends to the wind tax credit would stymie a jobs-producing industry that has gained significant momentum. An industry whose electricity production jumped more than five-fold from 2005 to 2010 and produces 20% of Iowa's electricity (for example.) Prevention of new fuel efficiency standards to expedite the automobile industry to apply quite available technology would hamper the jobs needed to design the updated vehicles, while simultaneously suffocating the long-term economy via carbon emissions' multiplier effects. Except that, one time, he asked to remove "barriers" to renewable energy including wind, and proposed to improve the efficiency of oil-fired heating in homes. The changing winds in Romney's sails speak volumes now.
Last night provides further validation to the gut feelings people have been having about Mitt Romney: that he is unprincipled only up to the point that he's principled in being a fiercely adamant megalomaniac. An opportunist of the most severe degree. His myopic message threw a bone to the extreme fringe of the Republican party, and was not only divisive, but callous and catering to terrifyingly anti-scientific beliefs. What with the Texas GOP already making critical-thinking a no-no in its official platform, the Republican Party of 2012 certainly needs no further encouragement to scoff at science. Whereas Mitt Romney had the clear opportunity to stake the ground and acknowledge climate change, with its increased evidence and increased awareness, it is clear beyond doubt that he has neither you, me, your neighbors, your friends, your family, or anyone in future generations in mind. It's clear, then, that the only change in climate Mitt Romney cares to heed is the way the Republican party's wind is blowing.