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August 28, 2014

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OTHER VOICES:

Listen up; climate change is real

I am contemplating my house’s frozen pipes, marveling that the temperature in the kitchen has inched up to 44 degrees and feeling that I am blessed. I have electricity. I have a working space heater.

We have just gone through a remarkable period where every state in the union had freezing temperatures, including Hawaii! (OK, it was definitely not statewide, but freezing temperatures were recorded above the balmy breezes.)

So many people have been through such incredible challenges weatherwise in the past few weeks that it is impossible to complain without feeling churlish.

But there are points to be made.

Folks, climate change is real. And, dear fellow citizens, we have to do something about our infrastructure.

I know, I know. You are muttering something about a polar vortex, and how this deep freeze has been really unusual and what you will tell your grandchildren: “It was so cold my swear words froze over the hood of the car that I couldn’t get started. I couldn’t even get through to AAA!”

The trouble with climate change is that “they” started out calling it global warming. That was fine when the weather was 102 degrees and the nation’s sweat would have overflowed Hoover Dam and crops were crumbling from lack of moisture.

But the truth is that climate change, subscribed to by more than nine out of every 10 scientists (picture them standing in lines with the truly dweebily hopeless ones refusing to hold up their hands), means that extreme weather gets more extreme.

Hot weather and droughts get more intense. Cold weather and snow and ice get worse.

Al Gore has a lot to answer for on this issue. If he had stayed with the adorable Tipper and hadn’t been, well, so self-righteous, millions of Americans might be more amenable to accepting the inconvenient truth that decades of using fossil fuels since the Industrial Age began have done enormous although not irreparable damage to the Earth’s atmosphere.

On the other hand, there are millions of Americans, even some in that august body of government known as the House, who deny evolution and subscribe to the theory that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. They have museums supposed to reassure people no harm is coming to us. They scoff at the idea that manmade carbon emissions could alter the climate.

Climate change scientists are noticeably intense in their statements that the repercussions of depleting the Earth’s delicate ozone layer will have dramatic effects, sooner rather than later. Coastal zones will flood more often and more dramatically. Agriculture patterns will shift. Droughts will get worse. And extreme cold and hot periods will get even more extreme.

In some ways we’re in a horror movie where the politicians told us not to worry and thus we refuse to recognize that the monster coming over the mountains intends to kill us and wipe our species off the planet.

But this reality movie does not rely on an untested, breakthrough military device that the hero alone knows how to work. We know how to combat climate change but we don’t yet have the will and don’t want to spend the money.

Ditto for infrastructure. Old water mains are breaking all around us. Potholes the size of Volkswagens are opening up everywhere. Clogged highways are far too inadequate for existing populations let alone tomorrow’s people. Bridges are collapsing. (Have we already forgotten Minneapolis?) Our mass transit systems are pitiful; those in Europe and Asia make ours seem akin to the Model T.

Once again, President Barack Obama will use his State of the Union speech to warn us about climate change and infrastructure. And once again the partisan rancor in the nation’s capital will sweep such dark thoughts off into the future.

Not to worry. This summer when we’re dealing with hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis and tornadoes, we’ll forget all about burst pipes and freezing temperatures.

Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.

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