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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Steven C. Amstrup: The worst thing about this summer’s heat.

By Steven C. Amstrup

By Steven C. Amstrup

As we enter the historically hot part of our summer, we’ve already seen over a month of record high temperatures. Our forests and fields are “potato chip” dry, wildfires are multiplying like a virus, crops are failing, and cattle are being sold.

The worst thing about this summer’s unbearable heat in the Inland Northwest is not increased electric bills, scorched crops and pastures, or the severe early fire season created by the hot dry conditions. Unabated increase in atmospheric CO2 guarantees ever-more frequent summers like this one. But even recognizing that sobering fact is not the worst thing. The worst thing about this summer’s intense heat is that most of our elected Republican leaders continue to stand in the way of actions that will prevent us from moving toward an even more unpleasant future climate.

We’ve known for over 150 years that more atmospheric CO2 will warm our climate. For decades, scientists have warned us that more erratic, dangerous and costly weather extremes will accompany that warmer climate. Recognizing the physics, mountains of scientific evidence, and growing expense of contending with these long-predicted climate disasters, I think all of our elected policy leaders regardless of party, should join forces to reduce our CO2 emissions.

Gov. Jay Inslee and President Joe Biden are working on policies to halt global warming before climate disasters overpower society’s ability to effectively respond. Despite the impact of the warming we’ve already seen this summer in Washington state, our Republican legislators have been essentially silent. At the national level, Republicans claim as they have for decades, that shifting away from fossil fuels will be too expensive – without recognizing the price of not acting. They distract from the real issues and still deny that global warming is real.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ June 29 web posting is a case in point. She first attempted to scare constituents into believing proposed state and federal actions will jeopardize affordable and reliable power. She didn’t mention that decades of waiting for private-sector solutions, without government guidance, got us into the unpleasant and expensive situation we now face. “We are not strangers to extreme weather” she continued, while ignoring the fact that with rising CO2 concentrations, our weather variations have become increasingly extreme and will necessarily continue to do so. Returning to the long-used strategy of distracting from the established warming trend by pointing to a cold snap, she added that Washington had a “harmful deep freeze this winter.” She closed with a litany of concerns about the “green agenda,” still failing to acknowledge the price of inaction.

Lack of climate action directly threatens the healthy ecosystems that support our thriving resource-based industries. If we want to maintain our logging, agriculture and recreation opportunities, our representatives need to join, rather than obstruct, efforts to halt CO2 rise. They simultaneously should lead the way toward forestry and agricultural practices that will allow us to adapt to heat already in the climate pipeline. Instead, Republican leaders continue to distract, deny and attempt to scare the public away from actions that can save our way of life – even as our economic opportunities blow away in the dust or literally go up in smoke.

Having been raised in a conservative Republican home, I’ve long been dismayed by my party’s resistance to climate action. I believe government’s role should be limited to things we cannot effectively do as individuals, like enforcing laws and defending the nation. But that role also includes protecting the populace from unfair business practices and negative externalities. Continued reliance on fossil fuels may enrich a few. The rest of us will pay enormous costs as the ecosystem health, on which we all depend, is steadily diminished. Those costs will be borne most heavily by the already disadvantaged and those living close to the land. The widespread but unequal distribution of impacts from anthropogenic warming make it the most urgent externality humans have faced. Instead of “promoting the general welfare” as our Constitution mandates, most Republicans still sit silent, obstruct solutions, and deny there is a problem.

Denial of a problem can be seductive. If you don’t like the evidence, just claim it is not true. My wife has multiple sclerosis, and my mother is losing her eyesight to macular degeneration. I’d love to be able to simply deny both diagnoses. Denial, however, will not cure my wife’s MS or save my mother’s vision. Denial won’t alter the laws of physics that require the world to warm as atmospheric CO2 increases. And it won’t cool future summers or prevent wildfires.

Without halting CO2 rise, this summer’s heat is only a view into a future none of us will like. The worst part of that view is realizing our Republican leaders seem to be OK with it.

Steven C. Amstrup, Ph.D., lives in Kettle Falls, Washington.