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June 30, 2012 10:14 AM A View from Our Dystopian Future

By Ryan Cooper

Let me apologize first of all for late start of blogging. But there is a pretty good story behind it.

Yesterday, after a day of intense heat that hit 104 F, shattering the DC record for hottest June day by two degrees, and humidity so thick you could have cut it into bricks and dropped it on the Colorado wildfires, a sudden storm came in from the west at high speed.

I was having some beers in downtown with a couple friends, and when we left for home everything was hot and dead still, with no sign of a storm. Five stops on the Metro later, it was raining buckets and blowing like a mad thing, gusting up to 80 mph according to later reports. Power failed all across the DC metro region, with 1.5 million homes affected, including mine. Thus I’ve spent the last several hours scrambling around Silver Spring, trying to find a cafe that wasn’t swarming with half of Maryland’s IT professional population.

Anyway, to make a policy observation, this is particularly vivid example of what we’ll be dealing with in the future as climate change gets worse and worse, and of the utter stupidity of failing to deal with it. Environmentalism is typically portrayed, especially by Republicans, as being somehow in tension with long-term economic growth, as if “the environment” is a kind of luxury good that we can only afford when times are good. That might be sort of true when it comes to things like national parks. But steaming hot temperatures, sudden, spectacularly violent storms, and rapid swings from drought to flooding are not just inconvenient, they’re terrifically expensive.

We have two choices. Make some fairly expensive but easily within our grasp investment now, or pay dramatically more as storms like last night’s rip apart our infrastructure, and rising seas drown many of our cities:

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Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

Comments

  • Hedda Peraz on June 30, 2012 10:53 AM:

    Unlike fires, floods, tornados, and blizzards, one cannot just "clean up" Climate Change.

  • Tramey on June 30, 2012 10:57 AM:

    Sometimes I get so frustrated with Republicans willful misrepresentation and obfuscation of scientifically accepted climate change facts, I can't put together coherent sentences to express it. I particularly appreciate it when people connect the dots... global warming results in extreme weather. We're only going to see more costly effects(in economic as well as human terms) as global warming increases. Thank you for making this point today.

  • Steve Muehleisen on June 30, 2012 10:58 AM:

    Ryan,
    The problem is between short term profits and long term profits. Greed wants it NOW therefore short term profits will win. Long term profits are the future's problem; someone else will deal with them.
    Steve

  • Gretchen on June 30, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Thank you. We had all our May flowers bloom in March here, and now every day this week has seen temps over 100. And we can't even talk about the possibility that climate change has anything to do with it. I don't understand it. Everyone buys fire insurance for their houses, even though the likelihood of their home burning down is very small. I'm only aware of two homes in my town of 80,000 that have burned down in the 15 years I've lived here, but everyone has fire insurance because the tiny possibility that your home burns down would be devastating. But we can't even talk about doing anything about climate change because we're not absolutely positive that it's happening, though we're pretty sure, and we're not absolutely positive it would be devastating if it did happen, even though we're pretty sure of that too. That's like saying you won't buy fire insurance unless you're sure your house will catch fire, and you're sure it would be totalled if it did.

  • c u n d gulag on June 30, 2012 11:40 AM:

    But... but... it snowed just 6 months ago!

    Conservatives tell everyone to stick one foot in some embers, and another on a block of ice, and on the average, you'll feel fine.

    I think 30 years ago, we might have been able to do something - especially if we had created a Manhattan Project for Energy, and concentrated on nuclear fusion for general energy, with research on solar for the whole country, and thermal and tidal for coastal cities.

    Instead, after Carter put up solar panels on the White House, one of Reagan's first actions was to "Tear down those panels, Mr Carter!'
    Right then, I knew the future looked bleak.
    And the research was left to universities and corporations.

    Now, who know if it's too late or not now?

    Why not try?

    We might as well die trying - as being baked slowly, dying of thirst, drowning in floods, freezing to death, or being torn apart by high winds from tornado's and hurricanes, and the debris they throw around.

    But now, we'll probably get Mitt and a R Congress.

    Hey, Conservatives, you can play ostrich all you want, and tell everyone to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem.

    But guess what?

    After our asses get sunburned and fried, eventually, our heads will bake, and we'll all be extinct.

    I hope the roaches and rats have better ecological sense than most Conservatives.

  • biggerbox on June 30, 2012 11:54 AM:

    Watching the video, something came to me. Maybe the powerful people on the right-wing actually DO believe the science. They've just decided that we are so irrevocably screwed that they might as well get all they can now while they're alive, and since future generations are doomed already, why bother caring about them?

    It's a heartless and brutal approach, but it at least makes a kind of sense out of their behavior. It really is "the end times".

    How odd to be living at the end of human civilization.

  • RaflW on June 30, 2012 11:56 AM:

    Also, too, the government that Michelle Malkin and her pals have been pushing like daemons to defund isn't doing nearly enough to save her house! Obama didn't buy water-bombers to save Colorado Springs because it's conservative!

    Really. These people have no sense of interconnection or of consequences for their actions.

    I feel really sad for the sane people in CO Springs and throughout the west. But they've bought into a total myth about western individualism. Until disaster strikes.

    Well, if disaster strikes poor black people in the Mississippi delta, that was poor planning and bad choices. Selecting a forest enclave in upland CO Springs, we'll that needs protecting!!

  • James E. Powell on June 30, 2012 11:58 AM:

    It may feel good to direct anger and frustration at the Republicans or corporations, but it is the American people who refuse to consider anything that might limit their choices or raise their prices. When Dick Cheney said, more or less, that conservation is for pussweeds, the good people of our country said, America Fuck Yeah!

    Changing the behavior of millions of people who believe, like humans usually do, that the problems come from the behavior of Others is not easy. I can't think of a time in history where it ever happened without violence and devastation. Can you?

  • Anonymous on June 30, 2012 11:59 AM:

    All of this could stop tomorrow if liberal millionaires and their foundations just stopped bribing climatologists -- and what's worse, the NSF and NOAA are doing the same thing with your tax dollars.

    It's simple -- no climatologists, no global warming.

  • dricey on June 30, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Sheldon Adelson and the Kock Brothers must have figured out a way to make skazillions of dollars off of a world in the grips of simultaneous combustion and inundation.

    And Sheldon Adelson and the Kock Brothers making skazillions of dollars is Job One through Infinity for the Randian Confederate Party.

    Why, they'll probably even toss a couple billion in pocket change to Mitt W. Rmoney as a tip for his dutiful services.

  • golack on June 30, 2012 12:14 PM:

    Sad thing is, if we really start today to work on climate change, we'll still see at least a 2o C increase in Global temperatures. (ok, video has it 4+, or 6+ if we don't stop all CO2 emission now) This is the new normal--we have to try to keep it from getting much much worse.

    Lets stop the armed forces from spending a little money to buy biofuels--but let's keep spending billions on aircraft that are not flight worthy or useful.

    Maybe Christo will wrap the planet in white plastic to reflect the sun.

    Must. Stick. Head. In. Sand. It's. Cooler. Down. There.

    p.s. That $500 billion cost for every year of delay mentioned in the video is somebody else's money, esp. when I can make billions a year if we do nothing.

  • CaseyL on June 30, 2012 12:22 PM:

    The weather on the East Coast looks pretty much like Kim Stanley Robinson described as the onset of the Younger Dryas in his scifi cycle about GCC, "40 Signs of Rain," et seq.

    To be honest, we would have had to start 50 years ago - long before GCC was a topic of discussion anywhere. By the time you can see the phenomenon, it's too late to do much about it. Like cancer, y'know? Some of the effects may be remediable, but no one with the ability has the will, or the money.

    As heartbreaking as it is seeing leaders of the low-lying nations actually, literally, and tearfully beg the Industrialized World to keep them from going under - and as enraging as it is to know the response was a stoney silence - I can't be too sorry for humanity, which has behaved like an invasive species nearly all of its existence. I feel bad mostly for the non-humans we share the planet with, who had no part in causing this and are the ones who will suffer most.

  • TCinLA on June 30, 2012 12:30 PM:

    Thirty years ago in graduate school, we read "The Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome. The book was denounced as a "Marxist assault on capitalism" that twisted the facts and wasn't to be trusted. In the book, various scenarios were presented, and predictions made as to what the situation would be in 30 years if nothing was done about the particular problem.

    Two years ago, I found my copy in a box in the garage, and re-read it. All the predictions of what things would be like in 30 years (i.e., today) if nothing was done were accurate.

    It's already too late to do anything. Sadly, the bipedal cancer on the planet will likely take the host down too as it goes, which is what cancer does.

  • t-rex on June 30, 2012 12:36 PM:

    Anonymous, parody has to go a step or two further than reality. When the Iraq war started to go south, Ann Coulter and a great many others immediately blamed the liberal media for reporting the news, because of course, if they didn't "undermine the troops" by doing so, then it wouldn't be happening.

  • Mimikatz on June 30, 2012 12:41 PM:

    What you experienced yesterday is called a derecho and is explained here http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/06/30/1104600/-Major-Severe-Weather-Again-Today-Explanation-Of-Friday-s-Event. It is forecast to happen again. It is tangentially related to global warming, apparently, but has happened forever. My question: did Congress make it out of town or get caught?

    As i've expressed before, I think those like the Koches who understand climate change but fund deniers want to preserve current and future profits and also see a world with much reduced population. Most people actually do accept climate change, surveys have shown, but are like people in a disaster waiting to be told what to do (beyond changing lightbulbs and being more fuel efficient). If the gov't announced it was a serious crisis they would begin to change. Perhaps 25-35% must believe climate change isn't happening to maintain their worldview, but the majority does accept it. It is the politicians who are falling short. Much easier to be deficit doomsayers than climate alarmists.

  • David Stafford on June 30, 2012 12:41 PM:

    Re Biggerbox,
    That's the conclusion I've come to as well. The selfishness boggles the mind but it's still the only logical answer to the question why would the elites elect to do things that are ultimately against their own interest, (destroy the middle class). They have seen the shitstorm coming and want to grab every last shekel to build their castles and moats. It's radical secessionism based on a warped mash up of Hobbes, Rand and the Book of Revelations. The lake of fire seems uncomfortably unmetaphorical after Robert's lecture.

  • Patango on June 30, 2012 1:01 PM:

    Casey and TCinLA nail it

    BUT!!

    Ryan , I can relate to exactly what you are saying , as can others here , but we have an understanding of that perspective , the best way to handle the situation in the "here and now" of society is to present the information directly , anyone who experiences car exhaust 1st hand ( bike riding maybe) can attest to its poison , when we present these subjects to people and show them it effects little johnny and grandma , we can get real legislation .... The words CLIMATE CHANGE , makes these same peoples eyes glaze over like Spock , or Sheldon from BIG BANG , giving a lecture on the tit mouse

    But this info is still relevant to us citizen ecologists , rubber meets road

  • DHFabian on June 30, 2012 2:39 PM:

    On the point about growing poverty in the US: What the middle class did to the poor, the rich are now doing to the middle class. We've watched a steady upward redistribution of America's wealth. Of course it will cause the collapse of the US. This country can no longer compete in the world market. On climate change: For the past 40 yrs or so, every time we tried to address the causes of climate change, the issue was quickly hijacked by a rerun of the anti-smoking campaign, distracting the public from the legitimate crisis. We're Americans: Would we rather cut back on our driving, or simply scapegoat someone with a cigaret?

  • James M on June 30, 2012 9:05 PM:

    Good comments as usual. I may be somewhat more optimistic than the majority of the posters. I agree that it is too late to completely avoid the negative effects of climate change. However, the reading that I have done to date doesn't suggest that it now impossible to avoid the worst case scenarios.

    However, should Mitt Romney somehow win the presidency, we will lose 8 years and the chances of the worst case scenario being realized will increase substantially. Our only hope is that BO is re-elected and feels that he has a mandate to take real action on climate change.

    Conservatives often argue that climate change prevention policies are job killers. The best refutation I have seen concerning this argument was from a researcher in a Japanese think tank. He argued that the economy vs. environment paradigm was fundamentally flawed. He wrote that without the environment, there won't be any economy!

  • Ron on June 30, 2012 10:01 PM:

    I think it's time to give names to weather anomalies that probably stem from, or are exacerbated by, global warming. For example, the DC event might be called the DC Thune-derstorm. Another event might be called Hurricane Hatch; then there's a midwest Toomey-do,a McConnell Mudslide, a Hellerish Heatwave, A Snowe-storm,and so on. What fun!

  • ElegantFowl on June 30, 2012 10:08 PM:

    The economic benefits of enviromental investment have never been more clear: corporations are stockpiling record cash and profits, and it's time for them to spend that cash hiring people and buying products and services to reduce environmental impacts that affect us all. Maybe their excessive profits will go down, and Wall Street will have to revise their profit expectations downward industry-wide. That's not bad for the economy, that's good for the economy.

  • d brown on July 16, 2012 2:36 AM:

    If you make money now you keep your job. And get more money. If you don't, to save everything latter, you get fired.
    I've a book from 1971 that said if the fight on GW was not started soon we would be spending so much on fires and floods we will not be able to fight it. It now seems that co2 going into the seas will turn all them too acidic for most life. Not I my life time, but in many of yours.