Sometimes the juxtaposition of apparently unrelated news stories raises discomforting implications. That happened to me recently. In the one story, NASA proclaimed that 2014 was the warmest year in recorded history, adding yet another confirmation of human-caused climate change. The second story noted that Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a climate change denier who has stated that he believes climate change is a hoax, is the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Normally, a change in a Senate committee chairman would not be particularly noteworthy, but this change is an exception. The Environment and Public Works Committee has jurisdiction over climate policy in the Senate and could block common-sense initiatives to reduce this significant threat, in spite of the fact that:

• Polls reveal that a majority of the population (including members of both major parties and key Republican leaders such as George Shultz) want action on climate change.

• We know from existing carbon control programs that well-designed strategies can produce large emission reductions while creating (not destroying) jobs.

• We know that, at some point, concentration levels in the atmosphere will cross a threshold that results in the release of massive amounts of methane (an especially powerful greenhouse gas) from the currently frozen tundra.

• Many of the current emissions will cause climate impacts for hundreds of years.

In his best-selling book “Collapse,” scientist Jared Diamond notes that throughout history many formerly thriving societies actually sowed the seeds of their own destruction. One set of these societies failed when those in power chose to ignore the warning signs of impending crises simply because those signs contradicted the party line supporting their polices.

Is history repeating itself?

Tom Tietenberg


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