Boiling blood and Arctic blasts

Windy commentary belies globally important issue

Feb 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm


Our blood began to boil a bit here at the Hits when we read a recent piece that Henry Payne, an editorial cartoonist at The Detroit News, wrote for the National Review Online.

Under a headline that declared “Warming’s Not the Problem, Mr. President,” Payne began what could be described as an anti-think piece by saying:

“At Monday’s inaugural, President Obama declared global-warming mitigation a second-term priority. On Tuesday, a deadly arctic blast here in the Midwest was a reminder of how frivolous that pursuit is.

“Saving polar bears may be fashionable among rich elites, but Detroit’s jammed shelters this week are evidence that cold weather threatens the poor among us. … Exposure to sub-zero temperatures were [sic] blamed for four deaths in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Government’s primary role is to provide public safety, reliable infrastructure and a safety net for the poor. Yet, the Obama administration’s global warming obsession shows how far Washington has strayed from core services.”

Give Payne points for his craftiness: He doesn’t come out and declare that claims of climate change are a hoax, but the clear, if unstated, implication is that frigid temperatures are some kind of proof that global warming isn’t a real issue.

And even if the planet is warming, he indicates, taking action to address it isn’t worth the cost.

“Adding insult to frostbite, scientific studies show that, even if Obama and other world leaders managed to cut greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050 (a reduction that would devastate the American economy), it would only cut expected warming by a measly 7 percent,” Payne concludes. “Washington pols may get good press for protecting polar bears — but the real climate victims are freezing in city shelters.”

It’s nice to see Payne expressing concern about people freezing — although, we would think the homeless folk lucky enough to find a cot in a city shelter wouldn’t be the ones actually freezing.

But that’s just a nitpick. As for the cynical ploy of using poor people as pawns to advance the corporate right’s agenda, well, that’s despicable but not at all surprising.

What’s really disturbing about the nonsense spewed by Payne is the notion that attempts to address climate change are just too costly to pursue. Of course, if the global warming deniers hadn’t been so successful in creating confusion and uncertainty over the past few decades, we wouldn’t be in so precarious a place right now.

At this point, the evidence is so overwhelming, only the most diehard of industry shills continue to deny that we are witnessing a historic change in the Earth’s climate. Instead, they claim that what’s happening isn’t the result of the greenhouse gases humankind continues pumping into the atmosphere, but rather is just part of some natural cycle.

What is true is that human-caused climate change has triggered a sort of natural feedback that is causing the problem of global warming to accelerate.

For example, in an article that recently appeared in England’s Guardian newspaper, Cambridge University professor Peter Wadhams points out, “As the sea ice retreats in summer, the ocean warms up … and this warms the seabed too. The continental shelves of the Arctic are composed of offshore permafrost, frozen sediment left over from the last ice age. As the water warms the permafrost melts and releases huge quantities of trapped methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas, so this will give a big boost to global warming.”

Part of the terrible irony unfolding is that such warming opens the region to yet more drilling. Royal Dutch Shell, for example, is reportedly “spending $4.5 billion on operations and lease purchases” in the Arctic. And so the spiral continues.

In a draft report released last month — at about the same time Payne was arguing that we needed to focus on freezing people and not the changing climate (as if it weren’t possible to do both) — a 60-person federal advisory committee detailed a mind-boggling array of threats being posed by climate change. Among other things, the committee noted:

“Climate change is already affecting human health, infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, energy, the natural environment, and other factors — locally, nationally, and internationally. … The types and magnitudes of these effects vary across the nation and through time. Several populations — including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, tribes and other indigenous people — are especially vulnerable to one or more aspects of climate change. There is mounting evidence that the costs to the nation are already high and will increase very substantially in the future, unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are strongly reduced.”

One section of the report dealt specifically with the Midwest. If folks like Payne have their way, and attempts to address the manmade causes of climate change continue to be thwarted, the consequences will be severe.

“In general, climate change will tend to amplify existing risks from climate to people, ecosystems, and infrastructure in the Midwest,” the report’s authors warn. “Direct effects of increased heat stress, flooding, drought, and late spring freezes on natural and managed ecosystems may be altered by changes in pests and disease prevalence, increased competition from non-native or opportunistic native species, ecosystem disturbances, land-use change, landscape fragmentation, atmospheric pollutants, and economic shocks such as crop failures or reduced yields due to extreme weather events.”

Notice that term “extreme weather events.” What’s were talking about isn’t just global warming —  it’s the climate chaos that warming is spawning.

Keep that in mind the next time some faux populist seeks to serve narrow corporate interests by attempting to con you into believing frigid temperatures are proof that “warming’s not the problem.”

News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected].