Thursday, September 14, 2017
The nation's chief pollution permission official told a television interviewer the other day that it was insensitive to talk about climate change while Floridians were suffering.
He buried his head where sand used to be.
I refer to Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. He got the job because he had been active as Oklahoma's attorney general resisting the Obama administration's "overreach," which is what Republicans call protecting the environment.
Pruitt says man's activity has little to do with whatever climate change is occurring. That's a sop to status quo energy generation and consumption. It's fear of change in the way we make money. It's conservative resistance to government regulation.
Scientists say it is empirical nonsense.
Several of them responded to the New York Times by insisting there was no more appropriate time to discuss climate change than while southeastern Texas was under water and Florida was flooded and darkened by a hurricane as broad as Texas.
In 166 years of record-keeping, 2017 is the first year in which two Category 4 Atlantic hurricanes struck the United States.
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, told the Times that scientists warning of climate change are repeatedly told they don't receive major news coverage because the effects of what they warn are so gradual that there is no "news hook."
Tides that routinely wash up higher in Miami Beach than they used to ... that's more suitable for an Al Gore documentary, or so we seem to think. Routine is not news.
Here, then, in Harvey and Irma, were two powerful news hooks for climate change. Yet the nation's EPA administrator was saying the equivalent of this logic: No one should dare talk about seat-belt safety because it would be insensitive to the family of someone recently thrown through a windshield.
Here is what most of the scientific experts say: Yes, we've had powerful hurricanes forever. And, no, we don't have empirical proof that Harvey and Irma were climate-change events. But the data that we've collected and recorded for decades reveals that atmospheric temperatures and ocean temperatures are rising in small, slow and steady increments.
That new warmth and the heightened energy from it do not increase the number of hurricanes, they say, but they will cause--and, anecdotally, seem now already to be causing--storms that generate stronger winds, span newly vast expanses, collect more moisture and move more slowly.
Harvey's hovering for days over Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur, to the point that it was regenerating its own rainfall--case in point, they say.
A hurricane so uncommonly big it struck the lower western coast of Florida and flooded downtown Jacksonville hundreds of miles north on the eastern coast, and left two-thirds of a large state without power--case in point, they say.
Oh, please, say the climate-change scoffers. They don't have data, but they have what they call common sense and they have their own eye tests. They say:
• We have hurricanes every September. Some are worse than others.
• If the climate is changing a little, and maybe it is, a little, then nature--not mankind--is doing it. We don't need to overreact to a little sub-decimal change in the Fahrenheit reading of some distant ocean water.
• Scientists frequently get things wrong. They were forecasting storm surges of a size not achieved in Florida. It is their job to warn of worst-case scenarios. It is the media's addiction to play up those direst forecasts.
There's some truth in some of that. Some within some.
But here is what the scientists reply, if I might paraphrase in a colloquial way: We are trained in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. We apply carefully gathered data to what we know about how air and water work. Thus, we make credible predictions about unprecedented and worrisome effects.
We can look at Houston and Beaumont and Port Arthur like the rest of you. We can see rain beating down harder and longer on that one region than we've ever seen before. We can see water rising higher and over much broader expanses in that region than we've ever seen before.
Yet we hear the nation's top environmental official saying it would be "very insensitive" if we dared to suggest that people consider the anecdotal evidence they're sloshing through and boating atop.
The current president has said climate change is a hoax. He's said a lot, little of it supported by evidence, little of it sensitive and little of it credible or relevant hours later.
To listen to him and not scientists ... there's a proper time for us to ponder with great sensitivity the wisdom of that. Like now.
Otherwise, Florida will not be alone in the dark.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 09/14/2017
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