To the Editor:
A critical skill for magicians is to be able to misdirect your attention while executing the deception. “Look at this hand while I fool you with the other one.”
Such is the current attack on climate change by those who try to convince us that it’s not an important issue. The new strategy is not so much to deny that climate change isn’t happening, but rather to state that it has happened before and is a natural process. So why should we worry?
This change from “it isn’t happening” to “it’s happened before” would be irrelevant and silly if it weren’t so dangerous. The basic fact is true. The earth has been both significantly warmer and colder than now. Likewise, ocean levels have been both higher and lower than they are now. So what’s the big deal?
The crucial fact that isn’t mentioned is that these events occurred thousands and millions of years ago and that the changes occurred over centuries and millennia rather than over decades. The “Big Deal” is that thousands of years ago we did not have most of the population living near seacoasts, we did not have New York, Charleston, Miami and hundreds of other coastal communities. We did not have major military installations like Norfolk and San Diego with all of the buildings, roads, bridges, pipelines, etc., associated with those cities and bases.
The cost of replacing, relocating or protecting all of this is astronomical. Consider the cost and disruption caused by Superstorm Sandy ($65 billion, 650,000 homes damaged or destroyed) and imagine how much worse it would have been if sea level was a foot higher. We could build dikes like the Netherlands or storm gates like London, but at what cost?
The danger in the new rhetoric from the climate change deniers is this: climate change is happening and sea level is rising. There is also a strong suggestion that extreme climate events are becoming more frequent and severe, as predicted by the climate scientists. It’s going to cost a lot to deal with, both in dollars and lives. The longer we delay, the more it will cost.
The insurance industry and U.S. Department of Defense are taking this issue seriously. Maybe it’s time that the public and Congress take a fact-based approach to the problem rather than following the misdirection to irrelevant issues.