Last week I stood on the Oregon coast looking at Otter Rock. I clambered along the shoreline and played at the tide pools. My partner Meg and I marveled at the colors. Anemones, starfish, snails, limpets, mussels and crabs were thriving in the nutrient rich baths. Seals lounged nearby, yawning on the low rocks at low tide. We played, barely attending to what the tide was doing.
Over the last couple of decades, there have been times when I have felt desperate, nearly hopeless. But Tuesday my heart smiled and I sighed with some relief.
We have marauded earth’s resources. Led by captains of growth and profit who have wrapped themselves in the banners of humanitarianism and development, we have been like an army of unchecked and rapacious army ants. We have extracted massive amounts of raw materials, produced and shipped tremendous numbers of things and dumped their overburden into landfills, waterways, the sky and even into space.
We have had very good reason to believe since the turn of the last century that if we burned fossil fuels at increasing rates, that we would amplify the greenhouse effect. Since Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the United States federal government has had the wherewithal to see that we are carrying out an experiment with our atmosphere. Since the 1980s, the science became reasonably clear that burning fossil fuels and deforesting the earth has turned up the heat. And since then, billions of independent observations led to the conclusion that we are at best impoverishing our own experiences of a beautiful world and at worst undermining our own survival.
Story after story attests to humanity’s ability to turn up the thermostat and rearrange the chemical composition of our water, air, soil, fellow creatures and own bodies. Whether it’s the calving of glaciers and the undermining of the West Antarctic ice sheet or the explosion of the black-legged tick population and the consequent spread of Lyme disease or precariousness of the ocean food chain from a combination of rising temperatures, increasing acidity and other factors, there is just so little to celebrate about our collective relationship with the creation. These are facts. They aren’t refutable.
As a feeling person, it hurts to witness them.
Yet somehow, it’s been possible for tens of millions of Americans to discard or ignore these hard truths. A perfect storm of economic interests, tribal affiliations, personal identities and worldviews have used a mass communication strategy to create an alternative universe. Well-funded “merchants of doubt” have taken enormous amounts of money from fossil fuel and free market fundamentalist think tanks to sow doubt in the American people’s minds about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Their story is inextricably linked to American preeminence and domination, to the view that the United States could create a Pax Americana and peacefully occupy the world through the mechanism of unregulated free trade. Deeply rooted in a message of freedom free of responsibility to other nations, much less “the environment,” they (correctly) sited the message of global anthropogenic climate change as a threat to their economic and political agenda. So they’ve attacked the messengers—scientists like my friend Michael Mann—and waged a war that ignited the fear and anger of “freedom” loving conservatives in the United States. Fox News, conservative talk radio and the blogosphere have forged a sword that has cut to ribbons climate action and environmental sensibility. And since the Bush era and even worse during the first six years of the Obama administration, the Republican party has wielded that sword very effectively.
But three days ago, something remarkable happened. According to The Hill:
A group of moderate Republicans is working on a resolution calling for action to fight climate change.
The effort, led by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) seeks to get at least some in the GOP on the record as agreeing with Democrats and the vast majority of scientists that the climate is changing and that human activity is to blame.
But it would stop short of endorsing any particular policy to reduce greenhouse gases, instead calling for research into what could be done about it, according to a GOP aide familiar with the declaration.
I started saying last year that this tide was turning. Last November, Senator John Thune (R-SD) said, “There are a number of factors that contribute to that, including human activity. The question is, what are we going to do about it and at what cost?” He was one of a handful of Republicans who’d been brave. Former House member Bob Ingliss (R-SC) had said something similar and lost his seat to a Tea Party challenger because of it. House partisanship is notably worse than the Senate and the “I’m more conservative than you” badge among Republicans creates all manner of doubling down on nonsensical positions. So it’s all the more reason to celebrate the ten Republicans who have come out, recognized the reality of human-caused climate change and called for a plan.
And I have a personal reason to celebrate. This past May, I rode my bike from State College to Washington, DC with members of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light to raise awareness about anthropogenic climate change and lobby Pennsylvania’s federal legislators to take action. Among our handful of requests, we asked them to endorse the Clean Power Plan and wanted to know if they had any plans around Pope Francis’s visit. Senator Casey endorsed the Clean Power Plan. Three of the ten Republicans in this group were from Pennsylvania. While we surely can’t claim to have been the reason for Representative Meehan’s, Costello’s or Fitzpatrick’s co-sponsoring of the resolution, we can know that our agency matters. We can thank them.
At the coast, I was suddenly being sprayed by foam as waves came surging in. The flat rocks where the seals were playing were being covered. They were out playing in the waves. The pools were covered. When the tide turns, it turns quickly.