by O. Ricardo Pimentel, Wisconsin Examiner
Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui is not the first U.S. city to be laid waste by wildfires.
It also isn’t the first incident in which scientific consensus points to climate change as a major cause. Yes, typhoon-induced winds contributed, but climate change made the confluence of those events so deadly. And climate change makes such confluences likely to recur in more places.
In fact, before and after the mid-August fire in Maui, we have had a series of occurrences — from more frequent and stronger weather events to major wildfires elsewhere to melting polar ice to ocean temperatures and currents doing strange things — all connected to climate change.
The evidence has been in for a while. Human-caused climate change is real.
And while there may be some debate about whether we’ve reached the dreaded tipping point, the denial that still exists has become muted — but still effective in fending off policies and actions to seriously address the problem.
Such dithering is deadly.
Lahaina, death toll 97 and economic costs projected to be between $4 billion and $6 billion, has not changed this.
What will it take?
We continue to put more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere where they continue to accumulate. And that word, greenhouse, is all you really need to understand to envision what is happening under our atmospheric dome.
It’s been that simple all along.
Remember how snowy winters were used to refute global warming , even as each year we continue to see record high temperatures?
Outright deniers still exist but the tactics have changed. Before, those denials were absolute. Today it is more nuanced.
There’s a good bit of whataboutism — pointing fingers at such huge greenhouse gas emitters as China and India, as if the U.S., also a major emitter, therefore bears no responsibility to lead in this area.
There is also some debate about solutions, whether the economic costs from enacting these are prohibitive. This, too, freezes us into inaction even as we confront the looming possibility of humanity’s extinction.
And there is the promise of geoengineering, things we can do aside from relying on renewable energy to reduce greenhouse emissions. I worry that these scientific solutions – years from actually being funded and whose efficacies are not fully proven – will also freeze us into inaction.
I fear that pinning hopes on geoengineering might be akin to just treating the disease rather than also emphasizing prevention.
Our situation demands urgency.
But we are still debating our response.
The first GOP presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23 opened with an invocation and a moment of silence for the Maui victims.
Later in the debate, there was a video question by a young conservative on what the candidates intend to do about climate change.
Ron DeSantis launched into one of his tirades to deflect the question.
Nikki Haley seemed to acknowledge human causes but then pointed a finger at China and India.
Vivek Ramaswamy, the youthful billionaire candidate with no political experience, called climate change a “hoax.” The audience booed. But the pundits later declared Ramaswamy the winner of the debate.
That’s the state of climate politics in the Republican primary.
Former president and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who isn’t bothering to participate in the debates, spent his time in office rolling back environmental protections. If reelected, he can be counted on to do more of the same.
As with victims of gun violence, the Republicans are offering thoughts and prayers for climate change victims but no meaningful action.
Before Lahaina, there was the California city of Paradise, victim of the Camp Fire in 2018 that ravaged the state. Cities and towns up and down the west coast have faced terrifying destruction and mass evacuations.
Thoughts and prayers.
But still no sense of urgency because, according to the GOP candidates, the real existential threat to Americans is “wokeness,” which, among other things, might steer people into acknowledging that human-caused climate change is real and that it requires urgent action.
Believing that wokeness is the threat might be as real a threat to us as climate change.
This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin Examiner and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.