Many, many years ago, back when Ronald Reagan was primarily known as the host of Death Valley Days, I concluded that the essential difference between American liberals and conservatives was this: Liberals identified real-world problems and at least attempted to implement solutions, albeit solutions that didn’t always work. Conservatives tended to be in denial that many real-world problems were happening at all until it bit them on the ass personally, and since they tended to be a privileged lot that didn’t happen much. Racial discrimination was not a problem for them, for example, so (in their minds) it couldn’t possibly have been a real problem for anyone else, either. But if you had packed conservatives into a crowded theater and yelled “Communist!” they’d likely have trampled each other to death as they stampeded to the exits.
Of course, those long-ago days seem like the golden age of rationality compared to what we’ve got going on now.
Gail Collins points out that many of the states being hit by the real-world consequences of global climate change are governed by politicians in denial of global climate change. Collins notes that Louisiana is sinking into the Gulf at an alarming rate, and Gov. Jindal thinks climate change is just a “Trojan horse” full of nefarious liberal ideas that would destroy freedom. However, Jindal has come out against forest fires. Forest fires definitely are bad.
In Louisiana, the most common way to visualize the state’s existential crisis is through the metaphor of football fields. The formulation, repeated in nearly every local newspaper article about the subject, goes like this: Each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. Each day, the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every football stadium in the N.F.L. Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders. This is surprising, because the wetlands, apart from their unique ecological significance and astounding beauty, buffer the impact of hurricanes that threaten not just New Orleans but also the port of South Louisiana, the nation’s largest; just under 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves; a quarter of its natural-gas supply; a fifth of its oil-refining capacity; and the gateway to its internal waterway system. The attenuation of Louisiana, like any environmental disaster carried beyond a certain point, is a national-security threat.
Where does it go, this vanishing land? It sinks into the sea. The Gulf of Mexico is encroaching northward, while the marshes are deteriorating from within, starved by a lack of river sediment and poisoned by seawater. Since 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has delisted more than 30 place names from Plaquemines Parish alone. English Bay, Bay Jacquin, Cyprien Bay, Skipjack Bay and Bay Crapaud have merged like soap bubbles into a single amorphous body of water. The lowest section of the Mississippi River Delta looks like a maple leaf that has been devoured down to its veins by insects. The sea is rising along the southeast coast of Louisiana faster than it is anywhere else in the world.
I confess, I hadn’t realized it was that bad. And Gov. Jindal’s response is to speak out against forest fires. One wonders (although not much) to what extent the petroleum industry in the Gulf influences his opinions.
Collins continues, “In Alaska, entire towns are beginning to disappear under the rising seas. Roads are buckling as the permafrost starts to melt.” And climate change is “causing the drains in Miami Beach to back up with saltwater, sending the ocean running down the streets.” The politicians in those states deny anything is happening being caused by man or about which anything can be done. And if pushed, they just say they are not scientists. Collins continues,
Florida is absolutely awash in backed-up ocean water and elected officials who are not scientists. Louisiana has a rapidly receding coastline and a governor who’s afraid of the energy industry. Alaska has drowning villages and a political establishment in denial.
Part of the problem is that climate change denial has become teabagger orthodoxy, and any Republican politician who so much as expresses willingness to consider the science is liable to be primaried. That, combined with energy industry money, pretty much guarantees that Republicans won’t admit there is a problem until they are drowning. And then they’ll blame Democrats for a shortage of lifebuoys.