Mike Littwin: As Hurricane Irma hits, how do you explain climate-change deniers to a 2-year-old?
September 9, 2017
I have a 2-year-old grandson who is fascinated by, and a little afraid of, thunder and lightning. When he wakes up in the middle of the night, he usually says he has been dreaming about "tunder," but if there's a storm during the day, he wants us out on the front porch watching and talking about where storms come from and why lightning happens and why thunder follows. We read several books on the topic, his favorite of which involves "grumpy" and "happy" clouds. On the other hand, he's also very much into weather radar.
This is a pretty normal human reaction. We want to understand things that frighten us so that we can feel safe. We used to put thunderstorms down to gods with thunderbolts, which is certainly no less primitive that those who think hurricanes are sent to punish a city for once having elected a lesbian mayor.
Now, fortunately, we have the science in front of us. We know how hurricanes form. And we know, crucially, that as the sea temperatures continue to rise, the chances are that storms will likely become ever stronger and more ferocious. We have some idea what it is we can do to reduce those chances.
Unless you're, say, the man who runs the Environmental Protection Agency or the president of the United States or the Secretary of Energy or the governor of Florida or the governor of Texas, who happen to be climate deniers all.
Then, you don't want to know. Or you say it's unknowable. Or you say that you're not a scientist, as if that means you must ignore the science in front of you. Or you say it's up for debate and meanwhile there's nothing to be done other than withdraw from international agreements on climate change and do away with regulations that limit the causes of climate change.
Or you quash research on, as they say at Scott Pruitt's EPA, the "two C's" — climate and change — while appointing a non-scientist to oversee which scientific research is approved for EPA grants. Or you remove climate data from your website. Or, as Florida Gov. Rick Scott is alleged to have done, you direct state officials never to use the two C's in consecutive order. (Scott denies that charge, making him both a climate-change denier and a climate-change-directive denier. What he also denies is that Florida is seen as the state most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change.)
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In fact, as Hurricane Irma follows Hurricane Harvey in bringing record-setting winds and/or rain, as two more hurricanes roil the Caribbean, as hundreds of thousands flee the vast and ferocious storm in Florida, as Houston and southeastern Texas begin the painful years of recovery, as more lives are expected to be lost, as many more billions of dollars in property damage will be recorded, as a nation is glued to the news in the hopes that it won't be as deadly as we fear, the immediate reaction from the EPA's Pruitt is that it's the wrong time to discuss the issue of climate change, that it's "insensitive" to Floridians and "opportunitistic" of those reporters who ask about it.
Fortunately we have people like Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the EPA and former Republican governor of New Jersey, to ignore the idea that we should ignore the issue before us. She wrote the other day in an op-ed for The New York Times that she feared the worst when Donald Trump appointed Pruitt, the climate-change-denying activist, to lead the agency and that her fears have unfortunately played out just as she suspected.
She tells of Pruitt's plan to create a scientific "red team" to challenge the findings of the great majority of scientists who study climate change in universities, in research centers, in government, which presumably would be the "blue team." He couldn't make it any plainer. The red-team skeptics, whose numbers are few and whose work is usually funded by the fossil-fuel industry, represent the red-state Republicans in the red-blue divide that has come to define politics in America.
As Whitman notes, there is no real argument among scientists that humans are contributing to climate change and that steps must be taken to mitigate this most serious of problems. She writes: "That Mr. Pruitt seeks to use the power of the EPA to elevate those who have already lost the argument is shameful, and the only outcome will be that the public will know less about the science of climate change than before."
The deniers may have lost the argument, but not in the Republican Party, and not in the Trump administration even at a time when the president is best pals with Chuck and Nancy.
And they haven't lost it in Florida so long as Rick Scott is the governor. He has been seen everywhere around the state warning those in evacuation areas to get out while they can, that their property can be replaced but that their lives are another thing. He speaks with urgency but with calm. If you could forget that he has done virtually nothing to lessen the threat of climate change to Florida as governor while ignoring scientists who have tried to warn him of the dangers, you'd be tempted to think he was a true leader.
As the storm hits Florida, I can sit my grandson on my knee and read him a book about how hurricanes form and he'll want to read it again. And again. And again. I'll tell him the storms are dangerous, but that we're safe where we are, and that his cousins who live in Florida have evacuated and gone to South Carolina so they can be safe.
What I won't tell him is that we have a president who thinks climate change is a China-driven hoax or about his team of deniers who think the best option on climate change is not to discuss it at all. For a 2-year-old, the world can already be scary enough.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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