Thursday, September 8, 2022

Is It Possible for a Believing Latter-day Saint to Be a Republican? Part 3


Global Warming

In Salt Lake City, since temperatures have been recorded, there have been only three 100-degree days in September, ever. But as I write, on September 7, we have just experienced a string of 100-degree days that stretch from late August to today. Today the temperature was 107, tying the all-time record for Salt Lake City. The previous record came in June and July. Not August. Not September. Yesterday was 106. That means we have had more than twice as many 100-degree days this September as have occurred in that month since the Mormon pioneers began keeping records. By itself, this may be nothing more than an anomaly. But we all know it isn’t.

My wife’s family has made an annual trek to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border for decades. But no longer. The water is too low. The lake is only 24 percent full. For years, we have camped on Lone Rock Beach. It used to be a fairly long waverunner ride from the beach to Lone Rock, a monolith that rose from the middle of the lake like a massive rock dropped from heaven. Now it is a long hike. And this too is not an anomaly. A decade or more ago, a friend of mine who works for the Bureau of Reclamation as regional director for the Upper Colorado Basin told me that it didn’t matter what the climate-change doubters said. “We’re dealing with it now on the Colorado River.” He knew what was coming if the weather patterns did not change. They did not. They got worse. And now the government is requiring the states in the upper and lower basins to cut back their water usage from the Colorado River. The cuts may not matter. Lake Powell and Lake Mead may both dry up. As may the Great Salt Lake. What will we then call Salt Lake City? Dry Lake Bed City? The West is experiencing the worst drought in 1,200 years.

Other areas are experiencing thousand-year floods, devastating heat waves, colossal wildfires. Extreme weather events are happening all across the globe. This week, for instance, one-third of Pakistan is underwater. Earlier in the year, Pakistan suffered a brutal heat wave that sent temperatures above 120 degrees. In the United States, an early summer heat wave affected 100 million people. A heat wave and drought has dried up rivers in China, disabling hydroelectric dams. Europe saw record temperatures this summer, including 104 degrees in England, of all places. Wildfires in Europe have burned nearly three times as much land this year as the average year between 2006 and 2021. Heavy rainfall caused floods and mudslides in South Africa, killing at least 45 people. These examples are just a few highlights and don’t even mention the steady melting of glaciers and ice sheets, which will raise sea levels, increase flooding, and put even more water in the atmosphere. Some people are referring to what we are seeing as the “new normal.” But Kim Cobb, director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society begs to disagree. “It’s very much getting worse,” says Cobb. Normal is now a moving target. William Coglan, who studies ice sheets, warns that we can’t rely on predictions: “Every study has bigger numbers than the last. It’s always faster than forecast.”

All of these weather-related disasters are the result of global warming, and global warming is caused by humans putting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. No one can seriously deny human-caused global warming anymore. Not even Republicans. Many of them in the past have refused to admit that global warming was real, perhaps partly because they didn’t want to be seen agreeing with Al Gore. But if they want to be that petty, so be it. At least now they can claim Al Gore was indeed wrong. He was far too conservative in his alarmism. And so were all the climate scientists who have been making dire predictions for years. I have also seen what Coglan does: every new study finds that the scientists were wrong. Global warming is happening much faster than they had predicted.

This is a much greater crisis than any mere political trouble. Even the undermining of democracy, which the Republican Party is determined to pursue, pales in comparison to global warming. We are talking about the planet, our only planet, becoming uninhabitable for the number of people we seem to think it should sustain. This is indeed a case of not being able to have our cake and eat it too. We can’t continue burning fossil fuels at the current pace and expect it to have no effect on the world we inhabit.

But the Republican Party still pretends that this is not a crisis. There is history behind this pretense that we ought to consider. When the Senate passed the Clean Air Act of 1970, the vote was 73-0. The amendment to this act addressing acid rain, urban smog, and ozone was passed in 1990 by bipartisan majorities in the House (401-21) and the Senate (89-11). But this year, the Inflation Reduction Act, which, as Paul Krugman puts it, is “mainly a climate bill with a side helping of health reform,” passed the Senate without a single Republican vote. Today Republicans would never vote for any serious attempt to address global warming, which is a far greater peril to humanity than acid rain or smog.

Such was not the case as recently as 2008, when John McCain ran ads about sounding the alarm on global warming. So, what changed in the past 14 years? A New York Times article in 2017 claimed it is “a story of big political money.” Much of that money came from the Koch brothers, who had a huge monetary interest in keeping fossil fuels flowing, and it resulted in what was called the “No Climate Tax” pledge, drafted by Americans for Prosperity, a political organization funded by the Koch brothers. The pledge was a single sentence that read: “I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” It attracted only 14 signatures initially, but then Mike Pence took up the cause and recruited his fellow Republicans to support the pledge. It quickly became Republican dogma, and according to Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist quoted by the 2017 New York Times article, global warming has “become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.”

Under Donald Trump, it may have been a litmus test, but in the short time since his defeat, climate crises have become more frequent and more severe, so it isn’t really feasible to deny the science anymore. But for some reason, even though Republican politicians don’t deny climate change much anymore, they have found new methods to prevent America from doing anything about it. Now the game is delay rather than deny, but they still do the bidding of their fossil-fuel donors. As Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) put it, “I don’t want to be lectured about what we need to do to destroy our economy in the name of climate change,” even though clean energy will provide far more high-paying and safe jobs than, say coal, which is not only dirty but dangerous to both miners and the environment, or even oil. In 2018, there were 2.4 million jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, compared to half as many in fossil energy, and the gap will only grow as clean energy becomes more prevalent and cheaper.

The common Republican argument now is not that fossil fuels don’t create greenhouse gases and warm the planet. The argument is that the transition to clean energy will harm the economy. As this argument becomes untenable, one must wonder what the Republicans will come up with next.

Perhaps a small group of House Republicans, who dub themselves the House Conservative Climate Caucus, represents the party’s immediate future. They discuss solutions that Republicans can support, but when they recently met with business executives to talk about the climate crisis, “the gathering was dominated by talk of more oil and gas drilling,” according to a July 27, 2022, New York Times article, and when Kevin McCarthy unveiled the Republican plan to address climate change, the plan called for increased fossil fuel production. This, of course, is the exact opposite of the steps we need to take.

If the Republicans gain control of Congress, we can be sure that whatever laws are passed, they will be woefully inadequate to slow the crisis that is consistently exceeding scientists’ more dire predictions.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just greenhouse gases that Republicans are indifferent to. When given the opportunity, they also ease pollution regulations and prefer to allow corporations to self-regulate.

Latter-day Saints believe that the earth is given to us by a loving God who trusts us to care for this great gift wisely. This belief seems wildly inconsistent with what Republicans have said and done in the past 14 years and in the present. Lying to appease fossil-fuel companies and delaying action for both monetary and political gain represent the sort of behavior Latter-day Saints should never condone. Yes, there are legitimate discussions we need to have about how we should tackle this existential crisis, but denial, delay, and deflection should not be part of these discussions.