The four declared candidates for president of the United States are batting 0 for 4. That’s right, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio announced their candidacies in the past few weeks in videos and speeches without saying a single word – not one of them — about climate change.
Now, in polls, climate change has never ranked high among Americans’ chief concerns. It generally goes up after severe weather events. Mostly the issue remains in the background. And when the economy is still in recovery, when ISIS is beheading people in the Middle East, Russia is seizing territory, and major negotiations are going on with Iran, it’s hard for the slow slog of climate change to seize the headlines.
But most leaders around the world say that climate change is one of the chief challenges – and maybe the hardest — in foreign and domestic policy for the next 30 years. President Obama says it often, and said it again on Saturday in his weekly video address: “Today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change…. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century… And the fact that the climate is changing has very serious implications for the way we live now. Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons.”
Indeed, in multilateral meetings worldwide, of the major international institutions — World Bank, IMF, United Nations, G8, G20 and others — climate change is a major topic at nearly every conference.
Why? Because the rest of the world has figured out that climate change is not a “hoax.” Indeed, the rest of the world, and businesses, state and local governments in this country, are already spending billions of dollars to cope with, mitigate, and adapt to climate change. This is not money spent on contingency plans for climate change; this is real money being spent now to cope with extremes in climate.
Take my native state of California, for example. We all know the Golden State is in the middle of a long-term and serious drought. California has had droughts before and will again. The proximate cause of the drought is the diminished snow pack in parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This snow pack is California’s main natural reservoir and has supplied Northern and Southern California with most of its water for more than 100 years – water for drinking, agriculture, and recreation. Most scientists think that increases in global greenhouse gas emissions are making California winters warmer and causing more of the precipitation that falls in the state to come down as rain instead of snow.
That’s important because, for a very long time, snow in the High Sierras fell and melted at a pretty predictable and fairly slow rate through the spring and summer. And over the decades California built an impressive network of reservoirs, dams, and catchment areas so that the snow melt is caught, stored, and distributed evenly across the summer and fall months.
But California’s springs have become warmer. And the decreased snow pack is no longer melting over many months, but is cascading down from the mountains in great volumes over just a few weeks. Even California’s extensive networks of dams and reservoirs can’t catch enough of the water to sustain water supplies through the drier summer and fall months.
So what did California do? Voters passed a $7 billion water project bond issue last November, and nearly $3 billion of that is for dams, reservoirs and water storage projects to catch, retain and distribute the faster snow melts and the changing rain patterns. I read a few interviews going back a couple of years with Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District. He wasn’t debating climate change, he was coping with it:
He is hoping that the $2.7 billion from the bond issue can be leveraged with federal financing to establish a $10 billion California fund to cope with changing water and snow melt conditions. Last fall, Kightlinger told the Western Growers Association, an organization of farmers, that “We expect higher volatility. Longer dry periods, and wet periods that are very wet. We are going to need large-scale storage, and larger pipes, to capture that water during those wetter periods.”
So whether climate change is caused by more greenhouse gases by man, or some long-term cycle we don’t understand yet, real people in businesses and governments across the globe (in China, India, Europe, and Russia too) are spending real money to cope with it.
But in their debut speeches, the people hoping to lead this country into the future said nothing about climate change. That’s just not good enough.