WASHINGTON — Following a furious thunderstorm on Sunday, the temperature here dropped more than ten degrees, allowing residents of the capital city to venture outdoors again. After several brutal days with the thermostat hovering near triple digits, temps in the mid-to-high eighties felt downright balmy.
From what I’ve been reading about climate change, though, we’d better get used to miserable, scorching summers. We can stop using the term “heat wave” to describe what will become a routine pattern of high temperatures, overtaxed electricity grids and epidemics of heat strokes.
According to NASA, all but one of the ten hottest years on record were since 1999. The agency expects this year to be the planet’s hottest.
Still, the fierce heat wasn’t enough to coax a vote on pricing carbon emissions through the Senate. While rightwing know-nothings like Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) used the blizzards that blanketed the city last winter to claim global warming is a hoax, Republicans just ignored the summer heat wave — preferring to cast a price on carbon emissions as a job-killing “tax.”
The legislation was abandoned by even Lindsay Graham and John McCain, who had once supported putting a price on carbon emissions. (By the way, climatologists said last winter’s unusual snow was a sign of global warming, which leaves more moisture in the atmosphere.)
There were Democrats, as well, who had no enthusiasm for legislation that would force producers of dirty energy to pay for their carbon emissions. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D- W. Va.), for example, wanted to protect his state’s coal mines.
The “tax” argument had also surfaced in the House, although a cap-and-trade bill passed there last June, largely along party lines. U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) was still raging against the bill last month, claiming that it would boost electric rates so high that the elderly wouldn’t be able to afford air conditioning.
“A lot of old people in Georgia and Florida and all out throughout the Southeast and the Southwest are dependent on air conditioning just to live. And if their electricity bills go sky high . . . people are gonna die because of that,” Broun, a physician, said.
So has the death of cap-and-trade relieved Broun of his worry about the elderly and hypothermia? It shouldn’t. According to The Washington Post, high temperatures claim more lives in the United States than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined — about 700 a year.
Unlike Inhofe and Broun, thinking conservatives don’t dismiss climate change as junk science or a liberal conspiracy. Instead, many of them prefer to cast a preferred solution — pricing carbon emissions — as worse than the changes wrought by global warming. Some of them even contend that a warmer earth will produce an agricultural bounty that will result in increased global prosperity.
The Pentagon doesn’t think so. The nation’s military leaders now list climate change as a national security threat because it will increase global instability. The CNA Corp., a Pentagon-funded think tank, warned in a 2007 report that global warming will spark wars over water, crop failures and massive movements of refugees across borders.
The industrial West may suffer those forces only indirectly, but less pleasant summers won’t be the only consequence for Americans. Climatologists predict more severe weather — more powerful and more dangerous hurricanes, more violent rainstorms, and both floods and more droughts,
Fiscal conservatives have tended to cast the battle against government debt as a crusade to save their children and grandchildren from crushing taxes. They’re right to worry about rising red ink.
But we ought to worry at least as much about a warming planet’s effects on the lives of our children and grandchildren. The consequences could be much more severe than higher taxes.