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Climate Change Isn’t A Political Issue. It’s A Moral Reality.

Moral progress on this scale isn’t convenient, writes Steve Almond. But it’s also not impossible. In this photo, demonstrators in support of the March for Science walk up Market Street en route to City Hall in downtown San Francisco Saturday, April 22, 2017. (Olga Rodriguez/ AP)
Moral progress on this scale isn’t convenient, writes Steve Almond. But it’s also not impossible. In this photo, demonstrators in support of the March for Science walk up Market Street en route to City Hall in downtown San Francisco Saturday, April 22, 2017. (Olga Rodriguez/ AP)

Of all the troubling aspects of the 2016 election, the one that historians are likely to look upon as the most galling and catastrophic was the virtual absence of climate change as an issue.

As a quick reminder, the candidates held three debates which lasted 90 minutes. The total number of questions posed about climate change was zero.

That was in keeping with the media’s general approach to climate change during the campaign, which was to pretend that it didn’t exist.

As a rule, Americans don’t do especially well when it comes to abstract threats. A meteor hurtling towards earth, or an earthquake that rips a city apart? That we get. But incremental changes in the climate, acidity, tide and atmosphere? Not so much.

The president’s decision to pull America out of the Paris Accord comes as no surprise. And we will see, over the next few days, hundreds — if not thousands — of articles and news reports denouncing him for his ignorance, shortsightedness, etc.

Denouncing this president is like criticizing a hammer. A hammer doesn’t absorb scientific data, or reason, or learn. It doesn’t plan for the future. It smashes things.

Such pieces might be gratifying to consume. But they are ultimately not the answer. Denouncing this president is like criticizing a hammer. A hammer doesn’t absorb scientific data, or reason, or learn. It doesn’t plan for the future. It smashes things.

What our Fourth Estate should be doing now — in fact, what it has a solemn duty to do, given its negligence thus far — is articulate what climate change is and the concrete ways in which it poses a dire threat to the citizens of our country, and the world.

That is also the most vital task facing the scientific community, environmentalists, academics, journalists and politicians of conscience. We must endeavor to build popular awareness.

Media outlets would do well to start telling the story of how executives from the fossil fuel industry — from the Koch Brothers to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — have poured billions of dollars into our political system, with the express purpose of warping our climate policy.

President Donald Trump gestures while speaking about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ AP)
President Donald Trump gestures while speaking about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ AP)

But ultimately, climate change is not a political issue. Media outlets need to stop treating it as one. Climate change is a scientific and moral reality.

We live on a planet in which the dominant species now holds the power to desecrate its own habitat, not with weapons, but through ignorance and indulgence.

Climate change has already caused profound and mass-scale misery across the globe, mostly in poor regions, which have experienced unprecedented levels of flooding and drought.

Hurricanes and monsoons are intensifying. Last year, for instance, the islands of Fiji experienced the most severe storm in history, with winds of up to 190 miles per hour. A full 7 percent of the population was left homeless.

Americans will only rally to this cause if they are made to understand the stakes.

Sea levels are rising across the globe. But many areas are experiencing the opposite problem: a fatal shortage of fresh water. In Ethiopia, already afflicted by drought, rainfall could decline by 10 percent in the next few decades. The rise in temperature has also caused a surge in mosquitoes and deadly viruses.

All of this upheaval is already leading to mass migrations, which not only cause misery to the migrants, but destabilize economies and regions, and stoke sectarian violence.

Some Americans may wish to partake in the childish fantasy that we can simply withdraw from the global economy, retreat into our climate-controlled homes, and slam the door on the rest of humanity. But climate change is already happening in this country. (Just ask the folks in New Orleans, or Miami Beach.)

We live in a big, complicated, interdependent ecosystem. Pulling out of one climate treaty won’t pull us out of that ecosystem.

Bashing politicians, or lavishing more attention on their campaigns of misinformation, won’t help.

Moral progress on this scale isn’t convenient. But it’s also not impossible. This is why a coalition of the concerned must rise up — starting now — and seek to educate those willing to listen. Americans will only rally to this cause if they are made to understand the stakes.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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