There comes a point that ignorance of the science supporting human-caused climate change becomes so willful that it enters the territory of the criminal – particularly for those with a say in shaping public policy around it. And perhaps nowhere are concerted, smart and rapid responses to this unfolding tragedy more critical than areas already prone to harsh droughts and high poverty, areas like South Texas where more than 20 percent of homes are considered “food insecure.” Areas like northern Mexico, where that number doubles.
With our destabilized climate poised to compound human suffering by delivering increasingly severe weather and imposing a state of permanent drought across the U.S. Southwest and Mexico, Texas Attorney General and would-be governor Greg Abbott should consider himself on notice.
“I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home,” he has famously said. It would merit a chuckle if the failure of one of the key federal initiatives he’s resisting – efforts to curb greenhouse pollution already destabilizing weather patterns worldwide – wasn’t measured in crop loss and lives lost.
In Texas average temperatures have risen about two degrees since the 1970s and researchers have tagged climate change for adding heat to the state’s worst one-year drought in history back in 2011. With research pointing to a global 7-degree rise this century thanks to the billions of tons of greenhouse gases emitted by human industry each year, the poor on both sides of the border are expected to suffer the most.
Three years ago, Princeton researchers wrote that as many as 6.7 million “climate refugees” – up to 10 percent of the adult Mexican population – were likely to stream toward the United States from Mexico by 2080 because of climate-induced crop failures.
The Royal United Services Institute reported this year that “tensions in social or political systems could emerge or be exacerbated” by such climate-motivated migrations. As if on cue, fringe Republican factions sprung up to hijack federal immigration reform efforts in hopes of erecting one continuous border wall across the nation’s southern boundary.
Facing down a burgeoning human-rights disaster, Abbott continues to deny the basic facts about climate change. In 2010, he told the U.S. EPA that Texas had “no intention” of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide, he said, was merely a “trace constituent of clean air, vital to all life.” And that’s true. Just like that other life-giving compound, H2O, is life sustaining until you’re submerged in the stuff for more than a few minutes without an air tank.
The basic science of industrially driven climate change dates back more than a century and scientific consensus solidified around it more than a decade ago. Every major scientific body in the nation now supports the basic facts of human-driven climate change and a recent survey of the literature found that of the peer-reviewed papers on the topic published in the last two decades 97 percent endorse the consensus view that humans are the main driver of today’s climatic changes.
Against the weight of of that scientific agreement one would expect a non-scientist like Abbott – defender of policies expected to cause so much human suffering – to have a sophisticated defense. But when challenged during a Twitter town hall last week over his bizarre position, Abbott defended himself by saying that science “shows that global warming occurred milleniums before fossil fuel use.”
It’s a popular argument among those seeking to protect the status quo.
What Abbott didn’t say is that the last time greenhouse concentrations were this high – 400 parts per million and rising – was during the Pliocene Epoch three million years ago. The oceans were dozens of feet higher than today and daily temperatures were seven degrees hotter on average and 18 degrees warmer at the poles. What Abbot should also know is that, unlike that last great hot spell, this one is being driven by the energy decisions we’re making and happening too fast for today’s species to adapt.
This generation or the one to follow will undoubtedly seek to hold Abbott accountable for his campaign of scientific illiteracy intended to protect the state’s fossil-fuel industry. Their law dictionary will likely define gross negligence as mine does: a “reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others” that is “just shy of being intentionally evil.”
His ability to defend himself on that last point, however, will only grow with every year the state fails to act aggressively to protect its own residents and the billions more beyond its borders.
Read the last installment of Lone Star Green: Human Rights, Human Responsibilities (Or: How Our Founding Father’s Cherry Picking of Indigenous Wisdom Led Us into a Planetary Pickle)