by ClimateYou Senior Editors George Ropes and Abby Luby
Climate change has become ubiquitous. It is being felt everywhere. The unprecedented drought in America’s western states, the rampaging wildfires it fosters throughout the West, and the repeated record-breaking heat waves that are affecting people’s health, their livelihoods, and their safety, are all effects caused or worsened by global warming. Some effects grab headlines, others more subtle yet still devastating.
Most people see the connection between the ravages happening on the ground and the changing climate driven by the pervasive, unseen but potent greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels that trap the earth’s heat and spiking global temperatures. Recently it was reported in the New York Times that extreme weather conditions in Montana were heating water temperatures enough to threaten the state’s famous fly-fishing industry. Fish are dying in Montana’s famed rivers and streams due to low water levels and water too warm for trout to tolerate. Montana’s state fisheries and the many people whose livelihoods depend on the fishing industry face ruin. Many of the fishermen who annually flock to partake of Montana’s ideal conditions for fishing brown and rainbow trout will likely go elsewhere this year, perhaps never to return. The qualities that drew them to Montana are now imperiled by the worsening effects of climate change.
However, the Governor of Montana, Greg Gianforte, has yet to see the obvious. Nor has the Governor of neighboring Idaho, Brad Little. Either they don’t make the connection between the extreme weather conditions and climate change, or they choose to ignore it. Both withdrew from the U.S. Climate Alliance earlier this month. The alliance is a coalition of two dozen West and Middle West states dedicated to fighting climate change by meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Alliance members include nearby similarly affected Western states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Gianforte released a statement justifying his withdrawal, saying it was because he “believes the solution to climate change is unleashing American innovation, not overbearing government mandates”. Despite denying the urgency of arresting climate change by withdrawing from the Alliance, within a few weeks Governors Gianforte and Little felt no compunction in appealing to President Biden for federal assistance to deal with wildfire response, preparedness and forest management.
The ubiquity of climate change has gotten people concerned, which makes the climate a political issue. Citizens are understandably anxious about the prospects of passage of Biden’s climate agenda and an outcome to the COP26 UN climate summit in November in Glasgow commensurate with the challenge. Too many politicians like Gianforte and Little, financial managers, corporate executives, and members of the general public can’t or won’t comprehend the enormity of the calamity fast enveloping us. Concerned citizens rightly question whether Biden can guide his climate programs through the Senate and/or Reconciliation. He needs those bona fides in hand to be able to lead Glasgow the way then-President Obama, John Kerry, and others on the 2015 U.S. delegation led Paris, by encouraging, cajoling, enticing, arm-twisting, promising financial support and assuring improved relations.
If the U.S. can replay its leading role, COP26 could be as significant as Paris was for an unprecedented global effort to preserve Earth as a hospitable environment for humans. Without US leadership, COP26 wouldn’t necessarily fail to reach any accord, but the chances of it being a rousing success are much diminished. If most nations don’t commit to ambitious emission-reduction targets, it would mean the world is on a trajectory to a temperature rise of more than 2⁰ Celsius (3.6⁰ Fahrenheit) by 2050 or sooner. Climate scientists agree that any temperature rise over 1.5°C will be catastrophic in climatic, economic, social, and political terms. Today’s senior citizens may not be around to experience the worst of it, but adults now middle-aged, young parents, children, and grandkids will be. Montana’s vaunted fishing experience of swift sparkling cool waters, wily thrilling trout, and the thriving industry it spawned will be only fond memories. Losing the joy of fishing in Montana will be a great loss.