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The Washington Post

Avoiding a Climate-Change Apocalypse

As you may have noticed, the end of the year was all about the end of the world. Mayan doomsday prophesies. Rogue planets on a collision course with Earth. Fear-mongering about an artificial “fiscal cliff.” House Republicans doing, well, what they usually do.

Fortunately, for now, life as we know it continues. And scary as all of this sounds, the real horror show, the true existential threat, is yet another crisis of our own making: the catastrophic effects of climate change.

There’s no need to read Revelations or catch a Michael Bay-Jerry Bruckheimer matinee to understand what it will look like. Just Google image search “Hurricane Sandy and Staten Island,” and you’ll get the general idea.

Certainly, it will take much more research to understand whether there’s a direct link between Sandy and climate change. But we do know that storm’s impact was made worse by rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures and unusual weather patterns, all of which are definitively connected to climate change.

2012 was the hottest year on record. Arctic sea ice is melting. Sea levels are rising faster than projected. And extreme weather events — droughts, storms, heat waves — are increasing in number and intensity, disproportionately harming the world’s most vulnerable populations.

But forget trying to pass climate-change legislation before the next storm. Republicans in Congress can barely bring themselves to help out the victims of the last storm.

After the GOP-led House unexpectedly adjourned without voting on a $60 billion Sandy relief package, the outrage was fierce and bipartisan. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called it a “dereliction of duty.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) blasted members of his own party for “selfishness” and “duplicity.”

The barrage of criticism forced House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to scurry backward, tail between his legs. He scheduled an immediate vote on $9.7 billion of the badly needed aid and a vote later this month on the remaining amount.

Ultimately, the debacle exposed, once again, the callousness of a GOP so extreme that after a devastating natural disaster, it would rather see fellow Americans languish in destroyed homes than let the federal government do its job. It also exposed a party so fractured that even the most benign bill causes disarray and disunity among members.


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Forget the zombie apocalypse. Boehner can barely control the lunatics who make up the House Republican caucus.

These standard-bearers of the extreme right wing embrace and espouse an inhumane ideology that entirely rejects our most American value of community.

From Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook, the GOP response to almost every problem is to privatize it — and give it a tax cut. Republicans’ alternate universe is one where school principals carry guns, Halliburton pulls people from burning buildings and the government polices women’s bodies.

This approach shreds the very social contract that sustains our democracy. Moreover, it doesn’t work.

There’s a reason we entrust public law enforcement with our security and public first-responders with our safety. They protect all Americans, not just the ones who can pay the highest price, and they do it well.

What’s more, few challenges demand the kind of collective, organized, publicly mandated and funded response that climate change does.

As environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben has written, we have already gone too far in destroying this planet. That’s why he and his climate activism group,, launched “Do the Math,” a campaign to divest from the fossil fuel industry and force policymakers to pay attention. Because as important as individual action is, we cannot turn the tide on climate change without going through the political system.

For those who really want to see change, it might be time to exploit the GOP’s fissures. When Mitt Romney turned President Obama’s pledge to slow rising sea levels into a punch line, he was playing to a party overtaken by climate-change deniers. But it was only four years ago that the GOP platform suggested that the United States take steps “to reduce any impact on the environment.” The latest saga of division in Republican ranks may just be the straw that breaks the elephant’s back.

At the same time, Democrats could take direct action without waiting for GOP climate deniers to finally believe in science. Obama, for example, could veto the Keystone XL pipeline as a threat to the atmosphere. He should also replace outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson with another serious environmentalist who will build on her legacy by regulating carbon emissions. And he ought to sit down with Christie and other coastal governors and convene a real climate-security commission to examine and improve our national response to the Sandys of the future. If our leaders can seize on this moment, we just might be able to save our planet from a real apocalypse.

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is an American editor and publisher. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation. She has been the magazine's editor since 1995.


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