The American West is once again on fire.
Huge blazes in California have destroyed over 1,500 homes and killed at least eight people, with others raging in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Overall, fires burn twice as many acres today as 30 years ago.
Wildfires are also raging across Europe, with fires 43 percent above average. At least 70 people in Greece have been killed and hundreds more were temporarily driven into the sea, while Sweden has asked for help with its own infernos.
This is just a tiny taste of our coming future if climate change is not halted. Murderous heat waves, drought, vast wildfires, super-powerful storms, floods, and sea level rise will lay waste to great swathes of the American landscape and built infrastructure. It is unquestionably the greatest threat to the nation.
As usual, one cannot say that these particular fires are unquestionably the fault of increased global temperatures, because that's not how climate change works. Instead, warming increases the background likelihood of extreme weather events. Global climate models predict that a warmer future will make those extreme events — just exactly the kind of thing we are seeing today — more frequent. Statistical collections are ratifying those predictions, proving beyond question that rising sea levels and heat waves are on the increase, while rarer events like extreme hurricanes are still being tabulated (but initial science is coming in as expected).
But basically, the simple intuition that extreme weather is getting worse while warming keeps increasing, and will keep getting worse if the world keeps warming, is certainly correct. Don't let duplicitous climate trolls trip you up on this point.
Conservatives (when they aren't denying climate science altogether) portray climate policy as some expensive hippie nonsense that will allow China to race ahead economically. In reality, virtually every other country on Earth is putting forth some kind of climate policy — and none more aggressively than China, which as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter could easily destroy itself on its own. The Chinese state is piling investment into renewable energy, canceling dozens of planned coal power plants, and building out a gigantic new green transportation network across Asia and Africa. They view America's brain-dead inaction on the world's most important problem as an opportunity to consolidate their global influence and emerge as the planet's leading nation.
Of course, other countries are more threatened by climate change than the United States. Polynesia may well disappear altogether under the rising seas. But it definitely is a major threat to the United States as well. This is not like Canada or Russia, which might enjoy some questionably countervailing benefit of huge tracts of taiga becoming arable farmland. The U.S. faces mass desertification in the Southwest, the probable loss of much of its farmland, constant battering by superstorms, and either the inundation of trillions of dollars in seaside infrastructure or being forced to build tremendously expensive seawalls around coastal cities.
When a handful of terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing 3,000 people, the government responded with unhinged aggressiveness. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan, toppled the government, and occupied the country for 16 years and counting. The cost is something like $2 trillion so far (and that's just a small part of the overall response).
Of course, that isn't to say that particular response was a good idea. (It wasn't.) But it is an example of the sort of thing that is widely agreed to be necessary when "national security" is under threat. Worries about costs go completely out the window.
But when a hurricane drowns the fourth-largest city in the country and another flattens an American colony, killing an estimated 4,600; when heat waves are causing power grid failures and fueling ferocious wildfires; when sea level rise is slowly encroaching on major cities; the Republican government is twiddling its thumbs. Perhaps even worse, liberal Democrats who supposedly believe in climate science also dawdled on climate policy when they had the chance, failing to pass even a weak cap-and-trade plan when they had congressional majorities, and then only years later finally releasing a milquetoast regulatory response.
It's easy to understand why it might be easier to whip up a furious response to terrorism than it is for slow-moving disasters like climate change. But someone who gets burned alive in a fire is just as dead as someone who gets crushed in a collapsing building. Indeed, the scale of the climate threat is orders of magnitude greater than that of terrorism. The latter is easily containable, while the former is vastly larger and will require a total overhaul of the economy.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party is the most politically diseased major party in the developed world. America is just going to have to sit here and take it for the next couple years at least, while Republicans do all they can to make things worse. But that just means that when there is another chance to pass climate policy, it better be as aggressive as possible.