As snowstorm Jonas approached the state, Delegate Rupie Phillips, D-Logan, passed around bottles of sunscreen on the House floor in Charleston. He was ridiculing the very idea of global warming. You know the tiresome schtick: How could we be experiencing global warming with a snowstorm in the forecast?
The lawmaker is from coal-producing Logan County, so yes, he has a very special interest group he is representing. It is clear Delegate Phillips is ignoring facts. Even the kids know that coal, which leaves a heavy carbon footprint in its wake, is a major contributor to global warming. Coal is a fossil fuel just like natural gas. When it is burned, it releases carbon dioxide into the environment. There, it helps trap heat and moisture in our little dome of life. It’s called the greenhouse effect — a pretty simple concept to grasp for anyone paying attention. And so, it gets hotter here on Earth and we get more extreme weather events. Even the oceans are warming up. It is undeniable. It is science. It has been researched. It is a fact. It is the truth.
But forget all of that. Forget the mountains of research. Forget all of the climate scientists around the world who have poured their intellectual curiosity into their work. According to Phillips, one winter weekend storm was all the evidence we needed.
As Phillips was providing the world with his simple-minded anecdote on global warming, he told fellow delegates that he had intended to get them each a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses — apparently to help deflect the effects of global warming — but said they were “a little expensive.”
Here’s what is expensive: willful ignorance.
In climate study and research, we prefer science and scientists to politicians performing amateur theatrics. If Phillips would take just a little time to jump on the Internet and do some research, he might bump into these facts:
* 2015 was the hottest year globally on record.
* 2014 was the next hottest.
* 2016 is setting up, with El Nino’s help, to break the 2015 record.
* December 2015 was both the hottest and the wettest December in the U.S. since record-keeping began.
* The 20 warmest years on Earth have occurred since 1981, with 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.
* The intense warmth of 2015 contributed to a heat wave in India that killed an estimated 2,500 people.
* The global death toll over the past two decades is approaching 140,000 people.
* The long-term global warming trend has created eight of the world’s 10 deadliest heat waves since 1997.
* The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950.
Dr. Gavin A. Schmidt — a scientist — is head of NASA’s climate-science unit. He recently told The New York Times, “Is there any evidence for a pause in the long-term global warming rate? The answer is no.”
Dr. Gerald A. Meehl — a scientist — who works at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told The Times this: “The whole system is warming up, relentlessly.”
So, ice caps are melting, seas are rising, people are dying, aquatic life is stressed and scientists say the global warming is heating up. And that, as they say, is just the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, we have a state delegate who is making jokes about it all.
Funny? Not so much.
We prefer science — not buffoonery — to inform any and all discussions about our environment, our climate and our future. We, too, prefer honest and informed politicians — not self-serving charlatans — who have the courage to speak hard truths to the people and insist on finding solutions for the people they were elected to serve. We want leaders who stop making a mockery of science. Question science? Of course. Scientists do that every day. Ignore science? At our own risk.
We want politicians who take the mantle of leadership seriously to help solve 21st century issues without defending an untenable status quo. We are all adults, here. We can deal with this. Fact of the matter is this: Science, business and industry are moving ahead and not waiting on politicians who are making themselves irrelevant and an afterthought in this very serious discussion. Is carbon capture a viable, workable technology that could extend employment in the coal fields?
We are certain the citizens of Logan County would prefer to have a seat at the table to participate in that discussion.
How do we get out of this hole in the ground? That’s a tough one. But clearly, fossil fuels are our past, not our future. Politicians who mock widely held scientific research aren’t making themselves useful. Not until they buck up, study up, find an ounce of courage and take a run at finding solutions.
It’s the very least they can do.