Warnings about the imminent perils of climate change always include the trope that our children and grandchildren will pay the price of our neglect, indifference or denial.
Isn’t it obvious? But, once uttered, the charge tends to glide away without becoming assigned in a way that lands on anyone’s conscience. The familiar narrative unspools through many alarming details of the coming apocalypse until concluding with variations on the same phrase: “Climate change is real and the effects are terrifying.”
For some reason the personal responsibility involved has been deflected by the generality of the charge—“our children and grandchildren” defines a collective casualty without names attached.
Since the world embraced the industrial revolution there has never been a graver, more merciless case of get rich now and screw the consequences. What we confront is one of the most consequential of human failings and one of the most familiar—the inability of one generation to accept responsibility for the well-being of the next.
Right now the deniers (mostly serving the fossil fuel interests) are winning, as Donald Trump dismantles regulations. Until 2018 carbon dioxide emissions—a significant factor in global warming—had been steadily falling in the U.S. for 13 years. But last year they suddenly bumped back up 3.4 percent—industrial emissions were actually up by 5.7 percent.
So let’s make it personal. Here are five states where leading politicians are climate change deniers and each of these men has children, in some cases grandchildren. Their states are already experiencing some of the serious early effects of changing climate. (The predictive climate data that follows is drawn from Environmental Protection Agency annual state impact reports, unless otherwise stated, and storm damage details from contemporary news coverage.)
This accounting has to start with Oklahoma. Eighty-four-year-old Senator Jim Inhofe long ago earned the title of Extreme Denier. He has constantly hounded and denounced climate science from the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works since 2003. In 2012 he published his fundamental text, The Greatest Hoax: How the global warming conspiracy threatens your future.
“God’s still up there” he ranted, and “the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
Here is the future to be faced by Inhofe’s three surviving children:
Environmentalists active in Tulsa, the state’s second largest city, have learned not to use the term climate change. Instead the accepted euphemism is “extreme weather”—heeding a warning from Inhofe that it is unacceptable on factual grounds to say that the climate is changing in permanent and unpredictable ways… although the belief that the Earth is flat is rare.
One of the greatest threats facing Oklahoma is water stress. The combination of a growing population and longer, more severe droughts is exacerbating already-strained water resources: every river and stream is vulnerable, with water tables falling after prolonged droughts.
The High Plains Aquifer, which provides most of the region’s water, has sunk by more than 150 feet in level. Overall precipitation is expected to decrease by 6-10 per cent by 2100. One result will be that the types of plants that can survive will begin to change. The risk of wild fires in forests will increase.
Oklahoma is also a sitting duck in Tornado Alley, and increasingly unstable weather will produce more and stronger tornadoes. Thanks to an extensive program of fracking for oil (supported by Inhofe) the state is now more prone to earthquakes than California.
We now move to Texas where from a cluster of deniers two stand out: Senator Ted Cruz and Lamar Smith, who has just retired after serving in the House since 1987 and who played a prominent role as head of the House Science Committee.
Cruz quickly recovered from being labeled “Lying Ted” by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, and from Trump’s bizarre idea that his father was involved in assassinating President Kennedy—two things, you might suppose, that would make it hard to be civil in Trump’s company. Cruz is now a loyal Trumper and in full support of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change: “The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming,” he falsely claims.
As for Smith, he was heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry and used his position to give a platform to deniers who attempted to cut NASA’s earth science budget. He attacked climate scientists and re-tweeted Breitbart News stories denying climate change which was, he said, “not science but exaggerations, personal agendas and questionable predictions.”
Here is the future as it will be bequeathed to Cruz’s two children and Smith’s two children:
Texas is already experiencing two consequences of global warming—increased intensity of hurricane rainfall and significantly increased summer heat.
The clearest warning of increased hurricane intensity came with Harvey in 2017—the hurricane’s behavior conformed to scientists’ predictions of the future pattern where a storm traveling north in the Gulf of Mexico draws new energy from rising sea temperatures, powering up the storm with more moisture.
When Harvey hit the Texan coast at San Jose Island it was a Category 4 and dropped unprecedented amounts of rain over Texas. Fifty counties came under a state of emergency. The storm had effects well beyond Texas: the state’s major oil refineries are on or close to the Gulf coast. The forced closure of refineries created shortages in the nation’s fuel supply.
Like much of southern Texas, Houston sits on a flood plain near the Gulf. Many newer housing developments were engulfed by storm rains—nearly 50,000 homes were hit, with 1,000 completely destroyed and more 17,000 sustaining major damage. The hurricane season is likely to repeat these effects as the storms become more frequent.
Average temperature increases in the last 20 years range from 0.5 degrees in the northeast to 1.5 degrees in the southwest. Texas currently averages more than 6o dangerous heat days a year. By 2050 it will see 115 such days. Summer heat is up 3.3 percent since 1970. Texas also faces the worst threat from widespread drought of any state, with an increase in severity of 75 per cent by 2050, as well as a severe increase in the number of forest fires.
Flood surges on the coast are producing an increase in mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever.
In Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan stands out as an aggressive and brittle right-wing nutter, spearheading attacks on the Mueller investigation and on Planned Parenthood. He was the first person in Congress to sign the so-called “No Climate Tax Pledge”—sponsored by the Koch brothers—committing to block any legislation on climate change that included an increase in government spending, and voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.
He is doing his best to ensure that his four children will, if they remain in Ohio, inherit a state with a climate bearing little relation to its present condition:
Most of the state has warmed by at least one degree in the last century. Ice cover on the Great Lakes is forming later and melting sooner. In 2011 a confluence of heavy rain and melting snow caused a flood so great that the lower Ohio River was closed to navigation.
The climate is likely to swing from spring deluges to sustained summer droughts. By the end of the century Ohio’s climate will be similar to Arkansas’ present climate in the summer and Virginia’s in the winter. By the end of the century temperatures are expected to rise in the winter by as much as 7–12 degrees and in the summer by 6–14 degrees. This is equal to the amount of warming that took place during the 12,000 years since glaciers disappeared. Half of Ohio’s land is agricultural and, because there will be more extremely hot days, corn harvests will suffer.
In northeast Ohio forests that provide habitat for rare species are changing because of heat shock—temperatures are changing too fast for plants to adapt. People can move location but biospheres cannot. Increased levels of ozone appearing downwind of coal-powered plants are stunting tree growth.
In Kentucky the two senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, act much as you might expect in a coal-producing state, though their utterances are as different as their personalities. McConnell, for whom the idea of explicit moral commitment is as attractive as the prospect of an intimate dinner with Nancy Pelosi, makes a point of saying he is not a scientist (we get that) but that for everybody who thinks the planet is warming he can find somebody who thinks it isn’t.
Paul spouts the familiar mantra that scientific opinion on climate change is not conclusive and opposes “onerous regulations.” He attacked a National Science Foundation grant to assist meteorologists understand climate change because he said it was supporting propaganda, not science.
The three children of each of these robustly myopic men should take note of the following:
The state’s average rainfall is increasing and likely to reduce crop yields and threaten aquatic ecosystems. Floods may be more frequent but droughts may also be longer—Kentucky competes for water with Ohio and Tennessee.
Very hot days will be more frequent. Droughts affect the amount of electricity produced by Kentucky’s hydroelectric dams—a drought in 2007 cut power production by more than 30 percent, which forced a switch to fossil fuel-burning plants to match demand.
Western parts of Kentucky are expected to have between 15 and 30 more days with temperatures above 90 degrees by the end of the century, severely reducing crop yields of corn and soybeans. Dairy herds will be severely affected by lack of grazing. Increased ozone levels will be dangerous to public health.
Finally to the Sunshine State, Florida, and to the new senator and former governor, Rick Scott. He also deploys “I’m not a scientist” as he simultaneously makes sure that the terms “climate change” and “global warming” do not pass his lips. Over his period as governor he cut $700m from the water management program, defunded bipartisan conservation programs and undermined the enforcement of air, water and climate protections.
His two children must already have felt the future.
Florida is the state most exposed to the earliest impacts of climate change – rising sea levels and amped up hurricanes.
The immediate effect of a rise in sea surface temperatures in the Gulf, up in some places by as much as 3.6 degrees, is to re-charge the energy of hurricanes as they near the coastlines.
In October Hurricane Michael became one of the most intense storms ever to make landfall in the U.S.: briefly touching a Category 5 and then, at Category 4 with 155 mph winds eviscerating the Panhandle coast, completely wiping out Mexico Beach and badly damaging Panama City. At least 35 people were killed.
A University of Miami climate researcher, Brian McNoldy, said that Michael “saw our worst fears realized, of rapid intensification just before landfall on a part of the coastline that has never experienced a Category 4 hurricane.” The storm had a minimum central pressure of 919mb—third lowest on record for a U.S. hurricane.
The sea level around south Florida has so palpably risen that tidal sea water now bubbles up from Miami storm drains and floods streets. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, predicts that sea levels in Miami will rise by as much as three feet by 2060. The state’s urban populations are concentrated at the coasts, many around either the beaches or, in the east, along the Intracoastal Waterway—both susceptible to storm surges. Palm Beach, home of plutocrats (including Donald Trump), is exposed as a barrier island. Inland ecosystems like the Everglades are vulnerable to salt water incursions. Infrastructure—highways, power grids and emergency resources—is exposed to storm surges.
According to the Miami Herald, by 2045 nearly 64,000 homes in southern Florida will face flooding every other week. That number could be a million by the end of the century. Summer temperatures are expected to be 9 degrees above the current levels—rising above 95 degrees for up to 90 days a year, producing intolerable heat indexes for a population that includes many elderly retirees.
And so to the homecoming. What exactly do these guys tell the kids? How do they subvert the delivery of un-mediated knowledge? What role do the mothers play—do they live in the same corrupted bubble as the fathers? And, most importantly, how long do these guys think they have before they have to concede that all along their first loyalty has been to the special interests that bought them, not the interests of their own families?
Tell the kids now, in the hope that they can shame the fathers. In every state where senators and congressmen are deniers, the kids, if properly informed, should raise hell, otherwise they will likely inherit hell.