Why the Right Wing's Denial of Science May Screw All of Us
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I heard a remarkable thing on the radio the other day and it had nothing to do with a congressman’s nether regions.
A local NPR reporter was talking with Joseph Nicholson, CEO of Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, New York, up in the neck of the upstate woods where I was born and raised. There’s been a lot more rain than usual, he said. Produce hasn’t been exposed to sufficient "heat units" -- in other words, the sun.
"We're going to be at least two weeks behind in harvest or ripening," he said, and if the skies don’t brighten up soon, yields could be down 30 to 35 percent. That’s a lot of lost apples -- and cherries, peaches and plums (although the rhubarb is doing just fine, thanks for asking).
As upstate kids we were told -- apocryphally -- that the only part of the world more overcast than us was Poland, so the idea that all these years later it’s cloudier than ever is startling. Is this part of manmade climate change?
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum sure doesn’t think so. The other day he told Rush Limbaugh "the idea that man… is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd." He went on to call it a left-wing conspiracy, "just an excuse for more government control of your life… I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative."
Better you should listen to Ram Khatri Yadav, a rice farmer in northeastern India, who recently complained to The New York Times, "It will not rain in the rainy season, but it will rain in the nonrainy season. The cold season is also shrinking." He’s experiencing climate change as a life or death reality. In a June 4 article headlined " A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself," the Times reported, “The great agricultural system that feeds the human race is in trouble… Many of the failed harvests of the past decade were a consequence of weather disasters, like floods in the United States, drought in Australia and blistering heat waves in Europe and Russia. Scientists believe some, though not all, of those events were caused or worsened by human-induced global warming.”
For years, scientists believed that the carbon dioxide produced by greenhouse emissions were at least in part beneficial for crops, acting as a fertilizer that helped counterbalance the deleterious effects of climate change. But according to the Times, new research indicates "extra carbon dioxide does act as plant fertilizer, but that the benefits are less than previously believed -- and probably less than needed to avert food shortages."
The World Bank estimates that there may be as many 940 million hungry people this year. The international relief agency Oxfam projects already high food prices more than doubling by 2030 with perhaps half of that spike due to climate change. With those increases could come hoarding, gouging, panic buying and food riots like those that led to the overthrow of the Haitian government in 2008.
Nor is it just our food supply that has climate change breathing hot and heavy down our collective necks. City and state planners also are examining its impact on urban centers and preparing for the worst. A May 22 Times article notes, "Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century... New York City, which is doing its own adaptation planning, is worried about flooding from the rising ocean."