Don’t Believe in Climate Change? So Long, Rural South!

A Texas State Park police officer walks on the cracked and drought-wracked lakebed of O.C. Fisher Lake, in San Angelos, Texas. Tony Gutierrez / AP

New Orleans  A peer review study published in the weekly journal, Science, would give any policymaker pause about the future of huge parts of the United States by the end of this century, if they were willing to read it and heed it. One would think Republicans interested in the future of their party would be rushing to the newsstand and firing up their computers to get a look at the granular detail on their maps to plot their own district lines.

Normally, that would be the case, but the notion that this might be the biggest transfer of resources and wealth from the poor to the rich, might have them high fiving in the aisles despite the dimming prospects for much of their base and their homelands. In the words of Solomon Hsiang, the lead author from the University of California,

If we continue the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history. Combining impacts across sectors reveals that warming causes a net transfer of value from southern, central and mid-Atlantic regions towards the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region and New England.”

The scientists say that in some parts of the South average temperatures will be up between 6 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit per year. Crops won’t grow and money won’t flow.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune highlighted the bad news for the city as one example. They noted that the study says that by 2100 storm surges “caused by a hurricane with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year – a so-called 100-year storm will be able to top all levees along the Mississippi River throughout the area and most of the area’s east bank hurricane levees.” The reporter quickly noted that coastal planners are already trying to raise the levees for a 500-year storm and flood and these projections are based on current levels. That was reassuring, but lawmakers are already tearing their hair at how to pay the bills for this, and Washington may not be as willing to help.

It goes on and on like this. At lot of the cost involves the fact that people will just plain die of the heat, especially the elderly, in these poorer areas, but this will be part of the 1 to 3% loss in the GNP by the end of the century. You wonder if some will be starving when the projection involves a 50% decrease in agricultural production in Louisiana for example. It just gets worse from there in places like the South with the temperature rising. Seven of ten of the hardest hit areas will be poor counties in Florida with Texas and other southern states taking the rest of the heat. Of course energy costs will be 10 to 15% higher as well. Interestingly the study argues that low-risk labor will be workers employed inside and out of the heat, but their cost will rise. High-risk labor will be workers exposed to the heat, which now is about 23% of the workforce in construction, mining and agriculture, but hours would be reduced, because the work would be unbearable. Warmer days and less winter everywhere also means that violent crime will be likely to increase. There the north finally takes a harder hit than the south with an increase of 3 to 6%.

If it weren’t for bad news though, there wouldn’t be any news in this report.

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Bringing the Fight for Climate Change Home, Minnesota Style

Shreveport   There’s no real debate about whether climate change is huge threat. You don’t have to believe the science, but you can’t deny what Richard Pryor famously called the evidence available to your “lying eyes.” We see it everywhere around us from the diminishing coastline to earlier Springs and more violent storms. The problem for many people is figuring out what they can do to be effective besides turning down the thermometer, putting out their recycling, sending the occasional donation, and answering the call to march when it’s made. So much of the problem seems global past our reach, so how do we have impact on such a huge crisis locally?

One answer to this question was provided by Kevin Whelan when I was talking to him recently on Wade’s World. Kevin after years as a community organizer and communications specialist with ACORN and others, is now executive director of Minnesota 350, and in our conversation it became clear that he and his associates there are trying to develop an organization and action model that translates the horror of global climate change into local action.

350.org is a well-known campaign and advocacy formation focusing on climate change, started as Whelan described it, by a professor, in this case Bill McKibben, and “seven students.” 350 refers to the level at which carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere passes the critical point at 350 parts per million. It is now over 400.

As Kevin described it, Minnesota 350 is a rarity though. It is not an affiliate of 350.org nor was it organized by 350.org. Rather, there were some activists in Minnesota who saw climate change as a critical issue and wanted to figure out a way to respond to the crisis, and decided to organize and reached out to 350.org and essentially asked if they would mind if they used 350 as part of the name of the organization they wanted to build. So, yes, the website says Minnesota350.org, but that’s more of a website thing than anything else. They are certainly federated and allied with 350.org, but an independent and autonomous operation in Minnesota.

This has translated in recent years to a lot of involvement and organizational action in pipeline fights. They played a key role in opposing a pipeline from the controversial and dangerous Tar Sands area of Alberta, Canada that would have run to Lake Superior, that is stopped for now. They were also heavily involved in supporting the Standing Rock fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which galvanized a movement, though thus far has a less happy ending. Kevin movingly described four visits to Standing Rock and how much it meant.

Minnesota 350 has learned many lessons in how to bring this global catastrophe to the level of local action but in talking to Kevin, they believe they need to bring-the-fight-home by figuring out a way to inject the issue into local and state politics, which would also mean holding representatives elected to represent Minnesota in Congress accountable on this issue. It’s hard to argue with that conclusion, and it is worth keeping an eye on Minnesota 350, because we might all need to follow their lead.

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