At a private National Press Club press conference broadcasted on C-SPAN on Monday, October 8th, I asked Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, how he was able to reconcile his party’s EPA rollbacks with the recent UN report stating that catastrophic impacts of a warming planet could be felt by 2030. The speaker responded primarily with the need for better investment in technology, as well as the need for developing countries like India and China to dramatically improve upon their polluting.
He proudly noted the recently passed FAA Reauthorization Bill included modernizing America’s financing system that included helping developing countries finance their infrastructure (e.g., power). This primarily “counter-China strategy” could then also help countries convert to cleaner based energy sources, indirectly combating pollution.
The Speaker stated the U.S., as a developed country, is “as clean as it gets.” This could be interpreted in a variety of ways, but let’s just be clear: the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history.
I didn’t expect an informed answer from the Speaker when I asked this question, but I also didn’t expect blatant inaccuracies. It’s okay to not know the state of science and technology, and it’s also okay to not grasp the magnitude of the global crisis. We can’t expect our policymakers to be innovation experts or to transcend their cognitive limitations. As a risk and behavioral scientist, I’m all too familiar with how humans systematically under react to risks that deserve our attention as well as the vice versa. But it is NOT okay to attenuate the immensity of the risk we are facing when speaking from a position of significant consequence to the lives of millions.
This what happens when science and science advisors are left out of the policymaking process. Credible science is no longer informing critical legislation to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. Rather, our Speaker just stated that the trade war with China will help address climate change. This is asinine.
We have heard from the National Academies, and now the IPCC where the state of scientific consensus is on the impacts of climate change. The planet is headed towards a “hothouse earth,” and we may very well begin experiencing catastrophic impacts within 12 years. While I am largely optimistic about human ingenuity and our ability to innovate and find the technological and behavioral solutions to address a rapidly changing planet, I know we are well behind geo-engineering ourselves out of the magnitude of the crisis that’s upon us. We need to aggressively, globally cut emissions and change our behaviors if we are going to stave off the more intense, longer lasting, and slower moving extreme weather systems–all the while knowing we need to rapidly adapt to a new global topography that we can no longer reverse.
Speaker Paul Ryan and the current administration are currently providing at best, irresponsible, and at worst, murderous, leadership in combating climate change in the face of fact and scientific consensus. Would you ask your dog sitter to fix your plumbing problem? At least that’s just a leak. Imagine not bringing in experts to address a global policy challenge that includes hundreds of thousands of coastal communities submerged from sea level rise. That’s what is currently happening.
Alternate leadership is sprouting up everywhere, thankfully. The private sector, and local and state leaders are stepping up to show solidarity in alliance with the scientific consensus that we must net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In the coming days I will be attending the sold out World Woman Summit at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, AR where I’ll be speaking on a panel titled “Women Driving the Future of Sustainability.” My fellow speakers at the summit and the delegates in attendance are examples of global citizens who understand the urgency of proactive planning. It’s not just human ingenuity, but thoughtful and collaborative execution that will get our planet and the inhabitants on it back on track.