Last week, as Hurricane Ian threatened to obliterate the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, Vladimir Putin threatened nuclear war in Eastern Europe. Ian tragically took lives and destroyed thousands of homes, while Putin, depending on NATO’s response, could deliver a radioactive world to millions.
A millennial storm in the Atlantic and an unhinged dictator in Russia may seem like unrelated calamities, but the cause of their escalation (lust for power) and their effect (mass destruction) are the same.
The causal link between Putin’s thirst for power and the devastation in Ukraine is obvious. Putin is obsessed with Russia’s lost glory, indistinguishable from his own, which he will “restore” by invading its neighbors. He will turn Ukraine into a pile of bloody rocks rather than let it coexist side by side because a murderous dictator cannot have democracy lurking on his border, showing his freedom to any Russian who raises the curtain.
The causal link between Western leaders’ lust for power and the impending climate cataclysm is less obvious, as it requires an understanding of both science and campaign finance.
Most Americans now see evidence of climate change. It is widely believed that the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels binds in the atmosphere, trapping heat, causing a rise in global temperatures. Rising temperatures, in turn, have caused sea levels to rise. According to tide gauge data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sea levels near the southern border of the United States have already increased eight inches since 1950and will grow considerably more – up to 18 inches – over the next 30 years.
Higher temperatures and sea levels lead to more extreme weather conditions. The world has warmed by 2 degrees since industrialization, and every 2 degrees adds 8% more water to the atmosphere. More water in the air increases deadly floods and storm surges. On average, floods are now 30% worse than storm patterns in 2000-2013. Hurricane Ian caused a terrifying wave of water 12 feet high, pushing thousands of homes off their foundations, crushing them against other buildings like bumper cars.
Besides water, the strength of hurricanes is also intensifying. Although reliable measurements of hurricane strength date back only about 40 years, when weather satellites began tracking storm intensity, the hurricanes rapidly strengthened. The probability of a cyclone developing a “major hurricane” wind increased by about 25% since measurements began in 1979.
Extreme heat, deadly wildfires, droughts and flash floods are also increasing rapidly. The First Street Foundation leverages a peer-reviewed climate model to assess climate risk in real dollars for real estate developers and private insurers. The model inputs atmospheric data from high-resolution measurements of canopy cover, solid surfaces, water ingress, land surface temperatures, and water proximity, overlaid on various scenarios greenhouse gas emissions. Their model shows that 1 in 6 Americans, half of whom are in the southern statesand nearly 80 million properties, face a significant risk of wildfire.
The model, free to each of search by postal code, also predicts oppressive heat events. It predicts that 8.1 million residents of 50 US counties will experience temperatures above 125 degrees Fahrenheit Next year. A heat index of 125 degrees, which takes humidity into account, makes the human “very likely” heat stroke. Within 30 years, nearly two-thirds of Americans will experience perilous heat waves as an “extreme heat belt” stretches across the central United States. According to the National Weather Service, Indiana and Illinois, which are not generally considered hotspots, will experience more than 70 consecutive days per year when temperatures exceed 100 degrees.
Infrastructure maintenance costs will also be staggering, as extreme winds, water and heat overload critical infrastructure. Highways, bridges, railroads, roads, water pipes, airstrips, dams and reservoirs – and the network – can collapse. Dow Jones, Marketwatch and the Deloitte Center for Sustainable Progress published a report estimating that the the cost of inaction on climate change will reach $178 trillion over the next 50 years.
In a farcical assertion of Darwinism, the GOP has turned climate projections into a culture war, even in states prone to the worst effects. When US Senator Rick Scott was governor of Florida, he banned state employees to use the term climate change. Current governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis describes himself as “not a global warming personeven as his state’s flooding costs are expected to reach $26 billion by 2045. Recently asked about his plans to protect coastal cities from rising seas, DeSantis said climate change was ‘a left-wing thing’ promoted by people trying to “smuggle their ideology”. He didn’t explain how wanting a dry house has become an ideology that needs contraband, but he did promise that Florida’s $270 million in flood mitigation money wouldn’t go for leftist stuff.”
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DeSantis’ obsession with not saying gay now officially extends to the science of not saying. As part of DeSantis’ “anti-awakening” initiative, Florida now prohibits state investments in companies that use environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings in their investment decisions, penalizing businesses for their climate awareness. Although most Florida insurance companies facing insolvency following climate-related claims over the past two yearsthe Florida GOP is literally punishing corporations for calculating climate risk.
Although primarily from the south, anti-science ignorance has spread across the country like cancer, but is deadlier. In West Virginia, Texas, Utah and Idaho, Republican lawmakers launched an aggressive campaign to punish companies that try to reduce greenhouse gases to reduce global warming. A recent New York Times survey showed a similar push from more than two dozen GOP state treasurers using state pension investment strategies. punish climate action. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo have already been excluded from public contracts for the sin of reducing their investments in coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel that contributes to climate change.
Climate scientists have begun to warn that carbon emissions are trapping heat in the 1950s. Congress can be forgiven for its climate inaction in the 1970s because the science was still relatively new and relied on large computer processing systems like Fortran. Ignorance of the climate was also guaranteed by criminal activities and well-funded disinformation campaign.
But in 2022, the vast majority of ranked GOP members admit climate change is caused by fossil fuels, but they still refuse to act because it would risk hundreds of millions in annual campaign contributions. Some, like Governor Greg Abbott in Texas, claim that clean energy will hurt the oil industry, but that’s just a pretext. Big oil companies are the biggest investor in renewable energy, because it is far more profitable than oil. Transitioning equipment from rigs to turbines, battery, transmission and grid upgrades will be costly in the short term, but extremely profitable in the long term. The suicidal catch is that even temporarily reduced profits will result in a significantly reduced campaign. GOP contributions in any upcoming election cycle, and most politicians only play for the current election, not the one after that.
Putin’s nuclear war could render extreme weather concerns moot. An apocalyptic climate could also make nuclear war irrelevant, as tribal bands emerge to fight over habitable tracts of land and water, caveman-style.
Putin forcing scared young conscripts to become hamburgers is horrifying and insane, but so is forcing our children to live on a burning planet.
Sabrina Haake, a Chicago attorney who lives in Gary, is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.