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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Both parties fail on climate change report

Published:

The federal report released last week that states human-caused climate change is already damaging the nation sadly generated predictable reactions from both major political parties.

President Barack Obama characteristically raised fears in a rallying cry for government expansion, saying on the Today Show: “Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires, all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak.”

Republicans summarily dismissed the report:

“This is a political document intended to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions,” said Texas Republican Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Science Committee.

Americans deserve better of both parties.

Obama and the liberals are all too eager to use the potential impact of climate change for greater command-and-control government likely to undermine the economy with small environmental benefit.

Most scientists believe climate change is occurring and man-made emissions are a significant factor, but there are credible critics and the facts are not uniform.

Healthy skepticism is justified. But for the GOP to ignore even the possibility of climate change damage doesn’t seem to us a responsible — or conservative — response.

Reports this week documented the melting of the Western Antarctic ice sheet, with climate change a likely factor.

After all, the public health and economy could be at stake. And regardless of the cause, sea level is rising (8 inches since the 1880s), which could be devastating to low-lying Florida, where more than 75 percent of residents live in coastal counties.

A better approach would be to carefully explore the science and consider cost-effective strategies, such as discouraging development in vulnerable areas and strengthening the shoreline where appropriate.

Particularly important is continuing reforms to the federal flood insurance program. Last year’s botched effort went too far and too fast, but the government shouldn’t be subsidizing development in flood-prone areas.

Similarly, the Obama administration’s sloppy subsidies shouldn’t prevent the nation from pursuing clean energy.

But cost-benefit numbers — not passion, politics or campaign contributions — should drive the process.

The market will react to climate change realities even if politicians don’t. Businesses won’t invest in areas that continually flood. Many companies already are working to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, for economical as well as environmental reasons.

Local governments should consider the thoughtful response of the Pinellas County Commission, which, as the Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell reported earlier this year, instructed staff to highlight which land and county services are most vulnerable to sea level rise. County officials are working with university scientists, NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the likelihood of future storms and floods.

This is not money-burning hysteria, but prudent planning.

It is entirely possible the 829-page National Climate Assessment released last week exaggerates the threat. Its predictions of climate change devastation in particular locations — including the Tampa Bay region — are based on computer models that are not infallible.

But the report isn’t fiction. It utilized an unprecedented collection of data, including satellites monitoring ice sheets melting, discoveries on soil moisture and developments in weather modeling.

The scientists concluded, “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonable allergies ... .”

None of this is likely to seem a fantasy to area residents.

Florida already has experienced more frequent flooding, dying coral reefs, and tropical fish and plants extending their ranges. Rising sea levels are killing trees along some coastlines.

And those who scoff at government studies should consider that insurance companies, hardly emotional about the issue, are believers. Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported the industry was expecting a rise in sea level and natural catastrophes due to climate change.

Of course, none of this means the sky is falling. The weather has changed dramatically throughout the eons.

But one doesn’t have to be a Chicken Little or want to throw the economy into a free fall to recognize the wisdom of objectively attending the facts and preparing for the possibilities.

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