Whenever we’re on the verge of avoiding disasters and accomplishing something meaningful for America’s future, international welfare and life itself, obstructionists sabotage our progress. Both major parties, GOP extremists especially, take the myopic view human existence revolves around profligate economies ─ prices at pumps, tenderloin sales (subsidized by taxes), mortgages; car loans. Levying a $175 billion/year, decade-long tithe on tax-avoidant rich and corporations to fund Build Back Better is somehow too expensive, delaying passage of transformative, desperately-needed initiatives. Yet, the world’s most gluttonous military budget ($770 billion/year or $7.7 trillion projected over 10), emptying the government’s coffers, sails through Congress without a hitch. Because it didn’t hurt his coal investment business, even Joe Manchin shut-up and voted “Yes,” costing each of us taxpayers $5,000/year on average. Where Build Back Better lessens global warming impacts and prescription drug costs, expands Medicare coverage to hearing aids and eyeglasses, and trims college and childcare bills, a mere quarter of the Pentagon budget goes to personnel. The rest vanishes into military-industrial-complex black holes. Ignored are America’s most dangerous enemies: climate change, white-nationalist militias, zoonotic diseases and a pseudo-Dark Age, fact-averse reliance on beliefs instead of scientific evidence and competency. Neutralizing those enemies remains top priority in 2022 as it has been for decades.
The 4th National Climate Assessment (2018) warned that failure to significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions would substantially cripple at least 22 different sectors of the U.S. economy. Even keeping global temperature increases below 2.8º C by 2100 economic losses would reach $300billion/year, second only to India, a likely underestimate given recent disasters. Countless human, plant and nonhuman animal lives depend on Paris Accord objectives being met. Extinction rates are tragically high and warmer temps, extreme weather and rising seas will destroy critical infrastructure and properties, escalating insurance claims and costs. Even before wildfires, floods, and whirlwinds wreak havoc, shifts in societal risk perception will lower property values in danger-prone areas. U.S. storms produced 23 million more lightning strikes in 2021 than 2020, and in recent years, hundreds of millions of farm animals have died with thousands of Americans from unseasonable jet stream swings, floods, firestorms and heat waves caused by climate change. Agricultural yields are down, and combinations of global warming, pollution and overfishing are savaging the oceans. As Earth warms and every conceivable gadget boosts energy demands, power generation becomes less reliable, driving up costs. The Ogallala-High Plains and other aquifers on which American food production, potable water and industries depend are nearing depletion. Similar resource stresses overseas contribute to trade and supply chain woes.
Earth was in a cooling phase for 7,000 years before anthropogenic greenhouse gases pushed atmospheric CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapor to levels humanly unknown. Dramatic CO2 rises, first measured by Arrhenius (1896) and irrefutably proven by Keeling’s Curve since the 1950s, are 130ppm greater than pre-industrial times, causing the planet to warm. That phenomenon, coupled with political inaction, guarantees irreversible feedback loops and tipping points. Killing-off forests for palm oil, soybean and cattle plantations means carbon emissions from decomposing trees will eventually surpass what forests absorb and sequester through photosynthesis. Tropical forests already absorb 1/3 less carbon than during the 1990s. If deforested areas become carbon-emitters instead of carbon “sinks,” Earth’s average temperature will rise even more quickly. Carbon sequestering forests and oceans will no longer be pumping the brakes. With Arctic regions warming 2-3 times faster than other continents, permafrost, frozen 40,000 years, is already beginning to melt. Trapped within and released by thawing is 2X more carbon than atmospheric; 3x more than arboreal. As glaciers and sea ice continue to shrink, darker, newly-exposed surfaces absorb rather than reflect the sunlight, retaining more heat. If polar feedback loops speed out of control, oceans will rise catastrophically. The figurative and literal tip of the iceberg: climate change drives every priority.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.