Editorial: Ayotte standing in the way of real change with climate change
This newspaper first warned about the threats posed by global warming in 1989. Twenty-five years later, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group comprising scientists from 195 countries, issued its starkest report yet. Human-induced climate change is not only real, but its effects are being felt now, and even more dramatic changes are unavoidable. Even if all emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane were curbed tomorrow, the panel reported last week, the Earth would continue to warm before its temperature stabilized.
The panel’s recommendations: Work to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels drastically and prepare for rising sea levels and an inevitable increase in floods, droughts and other extreme weather events whose affect on the world’s food supply could be profound.
Most of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation recognizes the danger. The votes of Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on environmental legislation, including bills aimed at slowing climate change, have earned them near 100 percent scores from the League of Conservation Voters. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is the odd woman out. Her league score was 31 percent in 2013 and 26 percent overall. At least three of her 2013 votes, including one on a bill to ban any attempt to levy a tax on carbon emissions, put New Hampshire’s environment and economy at risk.
The panel’s report echoed warnings made years ago by national security agencies. If emissions continue at current levels, the effects of climate change will be severe enough to destabilize societies. Crop failures, famines, water shortages, floods, the forced migration of residents from coastal areas and other disasters all increase conflict. Global food prices will increase, as they already are because of the drought afflicting the American West. The poor will get poorer. With poverty, the risk of violence increases. Aging infrastructure such as bridges, roads, culverts and pipelines will fail under stress from extreme weather. If nations do not prepare, damage to coastal areas could be severe.
Climate change skeptics point to the slowing of global warming during the past decade as evidence that climate scientists who say the problem is real and man-made are overstating the case. Global warming mysteriously slowed, though carbon dioxide levels increased.
Scientists think they’ve found the missing heat. It’s being absorbed by the oceans and being driven deeper by currents. That forces cooler water to rise, leading to lower air temperatures. But water expands as it warms so the absorbed heat is raising sea levels. The missing heat will reappear sooner or later, hastening the warming.
The Earth’s surface has been successively warmer in each of the last three decades. In the northern hemisphere, the years between 1983 and 2012 appear to have been the warmest three decades in 14 centuries.
Climate change deniers still exist despite such data, and politicians like Ayotte continue to thwart measures to slow global warming for fear of harming the economy. Yet far greater harm will befall all the world’s economies unless emissions are severely curtailed, and soon. Cities may have to be relocated inland and newly arid or drowned places depopulated.
President Obama is using every executive power at his disposal to increase the U.S. response to climate change, but real progress will require the help of Congress. We urge Ayotte to think of the future and support a tax on carbon, and to level the playing field between alternative energy and other sources by voting to end subsidies for oil and other fossil fuels.