by Dr. G.S. Potter | ecoWURD Contributor
Every four years the federal government must release a report on climate change.
And it’s the law.
In case you’re wondering, yes: the president – even a president as much of an ardent “climate skeptic” or “birther” president as this one – has no choice but to release it. That’s a very fine, but important detail mainstream news reporting has left out around the release of the most recent (and most alarming) “climate report.” And as much as the Trump Administration would probably like to get out of it, the problem for this particular White House is that it can’t.
The report is mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. Ironically, while it was crafted into legislation and passed by a Congress at that time solidly controlled by Democrats (until the Republican “revolution” that changed everything in the 1994 midterm elections), the act itself was signed into law by none other than a Republican, the late President George H.W. Bush, in November 1990. It’s a legacy Bush the First left us that we neither expected from him …. or know much about, if at all.
Knowing that this is law is important, if not downright crucial. It, first, answers a question everyone had when the report was somberly released while Black Friday shoppers slipped in and out of department stores: Why is this administration releasing a report like this? Didn’t their boss say this whole climate change panic is “a hoax?” The law, however, provides context and it shows us that the issue of “climate change” (now in full crisis mode), didn’t suddenly pop up at the dawn of the millenia when Al Gore presented us with his Inconvenient Truth. The federal government and policymakers across the political spectrum knew rough times were ahead for the planet back then, even if they weren’t taking any real steps towards alleviating it. Produced by the US Global Change Research Program, the report includes input from over 300 scientists from organizations such as NASA and the Defense Department.
Mental note: and if it’s something the Pentagon has its fingers in, and has had them in for that long, it means it’s that much of a serious national security problem for people to worry about.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: THE QUICK & VERY DIRTY
The Black Friday release was clearly an attempt by the Trump Administration to bury its findings. Still, the National Climate Assessment managed to see the light of day and it outlined climate change’s impacts on key sectors of the economy, various at-risk communities, and specific geopolitical populations.
Here is a cheat sheeted list of three key takeaways in case you missed it:
- Humans are creating climate change (we know that already, but it’s not something all of us like to admit)
- The consequences are severe. They are here. And they are rapidly getting worse (we kind of know that already, too, but … back to holiday shopping and mass consumerism to purchase our worries away!)
- There is time to stop it, but not much (ok, you’re depressing us).
It’s not rocket science. But it is science.
And it’s the school science lesson you probably forgot about. Burning coal, oil, gas, and forests releases CO2 into the air. Since the Industrial Revolution alone, there is now 40 percent more CO2 in the air. CO2 traps heat. More CO2 means more heat.
Hence, “global warming.”
But it gets worse. CO2 doesn’t just trap heat. It also interacts with ocean water in a way that produces something called carbonic acid. This increases the oceans acidity and the sea water starts acting like a corrosive. This effect is so strong that the ocean water literally eats through the shells of wildlife like clams, oysters, snails, and crabs – things humans like to eat.
When the term “climate change” was first entering our awareness as a nation, it was thought that the combined effects of temperature change and acidic seawater could have dramatic and almost SciFi-like effects on humans, wildlife, politics and the economy.
Decades later, these effects are taking hold and surpassing even the most cynical observations of early climate scientists.
SOME PEOPLE IN HIGH PLACES ARE LOSING THEIR MINDS. SERIOUSLY.
Many people, in response, have lost their minds. On one end of the “WTF!” range, we have scientists from Harvard formulating plans to block out the sun. Yes: in an spectacular feat of “geoengineering,” some pretty “smart” people at an Ivy League school are geeked out on one of the plot lines in The Matrix (watch the backstory in Animatrix  and you’ll see what I’m talking about) cool the planet down by blasting chemicals into the stratosphere. For years, scientists at Harvard have been experimenting with a process called “geoengineering.” The idea is that if scientists release enough chemicals into the air – specifically calcium carbonate – they can block the sun’s rays. This would produce a cooling effect that would potentially curb or even counter global warming. They want to poison the air to stop the problems encountered when poisoning the air. What could go wrong, right?
On the other end, the leader of what was once the most powerful nation on Earth has declared that science is “fake.” So, It’s not looking great.
His response to the recent release of the National Climate Assessment was: “I don’t believe it.” The president* also reminded the nation that he is, in fact, very “intelligent”.
WHY PEOPLE OF COLOR SHOULD WORRY
In the middle of all this very White genius is, as usual, the countless people of color, disabled folks, elders, children, and poor folks forced to live – and die – with the consequences of these decisions. And they are dying. Make no mistake about that. We will continue to do so in greater numbers if we don’t use our positions on the front lines of the climate crisis to take a stand at the forefront of efforts to end it.
Meanwhile, disenfranchising populations in power have been working hard to ensure they can avoid the fallout of climate change. And for the most part, they’ve done a great job. They’ve managed to use advantages in property ownership and income to ensure that Black, Brown, and indigenous folks are forced to live in flood zones and low-lands while they wait out storms more comfortably on hilltops and away from rising water levels. If they are caught up in the damage, they also tend to have insurance and FEMA to come bail them out.
Water and food shortages won’t be too much of a problem for them, either. They will still have enough money to pay full price for pre-peeled oranges and Trader Joes even if the cost of their Perrier goes up a bit. They have health insurance and are able to economically escape areas with the most pollution, so heat and air quality related diseases shouldn’t affect them too badly. White communities generally have air-conditioned schools, homes, and places of business, too. So, it won’t disrupt their daily lives too dramatically.
And sure, White populations won’t be able to avoid all of the fallout caused by climate change, but they sure won’t have to be on the front lines of the climate crisis. People of color will be there to serve as a buffer.
Schools, institutions, businesses and other essential centers of activity for the disenfranchised will continue to shut down more frequently because of lack of air conditioning during extended summer heat waves and lack of heat during extreme cold snaps. Our buses won’t run on time. Our stores won’t get shipments of food. And our pipes will stop running clean water. It is our kids and elders that will get sick and die from pollution related illnesses like asthma. Our people are those that are displaced by hurricanes and floods. It is our homes that will be destroyed and never rebuilt. We’re seeing it already.
And now under the Trump Administration, federal assistance for natural disasters seems to be more related to the color and political leaning of the community hit than the actual need for assistance.
But sure, blocking out the sun should fix all that, right Harvard?
CAN WE FIX THIS?
What must happen now is to stop those who’ve done so much damage already from continuing to take the lead in solving problems they create and designing solutions for the communities of color that must live with the consequences. And we don’t have time.
According to the National Climate Assessment, within our children’s lifetimes, the planet will reach a point in which the effects of climate change become irreversible. We will not be able to stop the storms or the heat or the extinctions. We will not be able to save ourselves or the planet. We will have turned the fate of our communities over to the very same people that are fighting over who gets to destroy them first.
Indigenous communities are under threat of losing entire cultures to corporations and governing agencies poisoning the air, land and water around them.
But many are coming out with their own sets of solutions to combat the crisis. Yet, its essential to insert leaders from these communities into positions of authority where they can pass the policies and make the changes necessary to stop toxic emissions and keep communities of color from bearing the brunt of the global apocalypse. Whether these positions are in the public or the private sector, vulnerable populations must lead – and no longer be vulnerable. They must light the way from climate crisis to planetary solution …. before our oppressors decide whether they’ll let the earth boil or to simply turn off the sun.