The most important national story two weeks ago was a detailed, legislatively mandated report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program called the Third National Climate Assessment, which found that “independent records from weather stations, satellites, ocean buoys, tide gauges, and many other data sources all confirm that our nation, like the rest of the world, is warming. Precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events are increasing. Many lines of independent evidence demonstrate that the rapid warming of the past half-century is due primarily to human activities.” Many of these changes, the report warned, “are detrimental, largely because our society and its infrastructure were designed for the climate that we have had, not the rapidly changing climate we now have and can expect in the future.”
The most important national story last week came from two new scientific papers that reported that major glaciers of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have destabilized, and their collapse, according to NASA scientists, “appears unstoppable.” When that ice sheet melts, worldwide sea levels could rise up 13 feet, which will be, in a word, catastrophic — and just be the beginning. Scientists estimate that human activities have already set in motion a sea rise of 69 feet, which would fundamentally alter civilization as we know it, especially in low-lying areas like Florida.
This stuff is no longer theoretical. It is happening right now, all around us, every day. We can observe it. We can study it. And as temperatures rise and oceans warm and sea ice melts and oceans rise, we will suffer the ramifications. There’s still plenty of room to debate solutions. There is not, however, any more room for climate denialism, not when so much is at stake.
Except, of course, if you’re a Republican senator who wants to run for president in a party in thrall to fossil fuel interests.
Enter Marco Rubio, who a few years ago dodged a question about the Earth’s age by saying, “I’m not a scientist, man,” but who now feels qualified to tell us that the overwhelming consensus of People Who Know What They’re Talking About is wrong, because he says so: “I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate,” the Florida senator told ABC News.
A few days later, Rubio tried to walk back that particular idiocy, saying that even if the U.S. took action to address carbon pollution, other parts of the world wouldn’t, so what’s the point? (Fact: The U.S. accounts for 19 percent of worldwide carbon emissions.) And then, in an interview with Sean Hannity (naturally), Rubio inveighed on how pro-choice liberals are the ones who actually hate science, because they deny that life begins at conception. (Fact: There’s a difference between life and personhood.)
Climate change is the biggest and most important challenge of the 21st Century, not something to be shrugged away. By suggesting that it can be, Rubio only revealed how vacuous he really is.