Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Future generations will look back at us and howl in indignation

The data are in: As expected, last year was easily the warmest on record. Global temperatures shattered the previous high, set just the previous year. As the administrators for both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration note:

"Fifteen of the 16 warmest years on record have now occurred since 2001. Temperatures will bounce around from year to year, but the direction of the long-term trend is as clear as a rocket headed for space: it is going up."

As the administrators note, sea levels are rising, increasing by almost three inches in the last two decade. The Arctic ice cap is shrinking, as are icesheets and glaciers. Greenland alone is shedding 300 billion tons of ice a year. The world in which mankind and every other species evolved is being altered before our eyes. And if previous patterns hold, 2016 may well top the record-shattering heat of 2015.

We cannot say that we weren't warned. That is not a defense available to us. As far back as the 1970s, scientists and computer models have been warning that increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere would drive global temperatures upward at a rate never before seen in the global climate record reaching back hundreds of thousands of years. Lo and behold, we can see it happening.

But some of course refuse to see. They refuse to understand. When confronted by the facts they retreat into a series of frustrating nesting doll arguments, each hidden inside the other: The planet isn't heating, and if it is heating it is not caused by mankind, and if it is heating and it is caused by mankind then it's probably good for us anyway, and if it is heating and caused by mankind and not good for us then there's nothing we can do about it anyway. That is not the behavior of someone confident in either their data or argument.

Oh. and the whole thing is a conspiracy cooked up by scientists around the world as part of a plot to seize control of the economy. Because you know, that's what scientists like to do. An entire major American political party has made belief in that ridiculous argument a central test of loyalty, crippling the response by the nation whose global leadership on the issue is most essential.

Jeb Bush, allegedly one of the more sensible leaders of that party, put it this way when responding to a question in New Hampshire last month:

“The climate is changing — it always has, that’s not any news flash — and the outcomes of that are still not determined. To create policies for today that will have some impact for 50 years from now is almost destined to be wrong.”

Only willful stupidity allows an intelligent person to make a statement like that. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Bush and many other figures in the GOP, including Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, have in the past been willing to accept the science on climate change but have since succumbed to the know-nothingness demanded by their party.

The WSJ reports:

"Shifts by Mr. Rubio and some of his rivals on the issue recall an inconvenient past that many in the GOP would like to forget: Republicans, not Democrats, first championed market-based systems to control pollution, as a way to avoid more direct regulation.

Until 2008, many Republicans, including then-presidential nominee John McCain, supported cap-and-trade to address climate change. Once Mr. Obama won the White House, Republicans swiftly unified against nearly all of his initiatives, including a cap-and-trade bill that would have set limits on carbon emissions and allowed companies to trade pollution credits to comply."

Future generations will look back on this era and they will howl in indignation at our irresponsibility and self-indulgence.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.