Our candidates and the problem of climate change

The earth is on fire.

Well, it’s not actually – but it may as well be. According to preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the globe experienced its warmest year on record in 2015, eclipsing the old record set in 2014. Indeed, 2015 was nearly 0.90 degrees Celsius, or 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than the long-term average. The devastating manifestations of this warmth include a heat wave in India so powerful that asphalt melted and over 1,000 people lost their lives, unprecedented wildfires in the Pacific Northwest that destroyed thousands of acres of wilderness and hundreds of homes and torrential rainfall in East Africa that displaced tens of thousands of people, caused bridges to collapse, leaving dozens dead.

The social costs notwithstanding, climate-induced natural disasters cause billions of dollars in economic damages every year, and these losses will likely grow as the planet continues to warm. Understanding the immense threat global warming poses to the international community, negotiators met in Paris at the end of last year to hammer out a historic accord that compels all 195 signatories to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And yet, this agreement may represent too little, too late; analysts argue that the reduction pledges in the deal will likely not prevent the planet from warming beyond two degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which scientists warn catastrophic climate change will probably occur.

Given this sobering analysis, it is of utmost importance that the next president of the United States build upon the successes of the Obama administration as it relates to mitigating climate change. The United States, the second largest aggregate emitter of GHGs, must play an active role in the development and implementation of all agreements designed to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Where, then, do our main presidential contenders stand on the Paris accord and other efforts to reduce our emission of heat-trapping gases?

Not a single contender for the Republican presidential nomination supports the deal reached in Paris. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a formidable contender for the nomination, claimed at a recent Senate hearing, “There has been no significant global warming in the past 18 years” – an assertion completely at odds with the world scientific community.

“I’m not a scientist” has become the favorite adage of many of the Republican candidates when asked if they believe the planet is warming, including for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, much of whose home state will disappear into the ocean if GHG emissions do not fall precipitously immediately. How humble of you, Senator Rubio, so why don’t you listen to the 97 percent of scientists who believe not only that the earth is heating up but that humans are largely responsible for this temperature rise? You’re not an economist, either, but that doesn’t stop you from championing economic policies that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, does it?

The Republican Party may have bowed to Big Oil and buried its head in the sand, but thankfully all three candidates still seeking the Democratic nomination have pledged to build on the president’s initiatives to mitigate global warming.

The divide between the parties on this issue is stark. When I go to my voting precinct this November, I’ll keep that in mind. I hope you do, too.