Climate Change: Elephant in the 2016 Election Room

Climate change (or as I prefer to term the issue, global change) is the ugly stepchild of the 2016 election.  A non-issue for the Trump campaign (it can’t be an issue if it doesn’t exist) and a job creation issue for the Clinton campaign, we are in broad political neglect when it comes to the seriousness of climate change.  Yet if we fail to address this issue quickly and with enthusiasm, all the other issues fights are for BIA Daily Temperature Recordnaught.  Whether you are concerned about immigration, international trade agreements, gun ownership, income distribution, or you just want to “Make America Great Again,” your interests will be swamped by the effects of global change.

In Maine we are lucky that some of our elected representatives of both parties take the issue seriously.  A recent Maine Policy Review commentary by UMaine faculty member Sharon Tisher and long-time public servant Peter Mills documents the leadership of this issue by three of the four members of Maine’s Congressional delegation.

Yet climate change denial remains common in the political realm.  Witness the recent MPBN sponsored debate of candidates for the Republican nomination to challenge Representative Pingree for the 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  One candidate, who asserts he is a scientist, rejects the peer reviewed research of thousands of scientists who document global change and its effects on planetary systems and on human wellbeing.  He shows no signs of having read any of that science but rejects it none the less.  The other candidate admitted having read the “report” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), thought there might be something to climate change, but was unconvinced that the likely impacts were documented.  Therefore, we should do nothing.

For the record, the IPCC has produced five series of reports over the past decades, each one building on the science published since the past report.  Reports are typically in three parts and the latest series, the so-called Fifth Assessment Report, was in 2013-2014:

Working Group I – The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change.

This report explains the overwhelming evidence of how humans are changing the climate.

Working Group II – Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

This report shows the likely effects of climate change on natural systems upon which we and all the other life on Earth rely.

Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change.

This report helps to understand steps it would take to begin to deal with the problem.  Each of these reports is a “summary for policymakers.”

I would wish that all candidates for national office read these more carefully than it appears those candidates have in Maine’s 1st Congressional district primary contest.

Climate change deniers, like the two aspirants for Maine’s 1st District Congressional seat, recently had latched onto the fact that average global temperature increases seem to have slowed or even paused in the first decade of the 21st Century.  Recent data, as reported in The Economist, show that this pause was explained by climate science and that we have now reverted to increasing global temperatures.  We saw this in Maine, the winter past being the warmest in recorded history.

The science is clear, humans are changing how the Earth functions, what some scientists are labeling as the onset of a new epoch called the Anthropocene.  We need to challenge our elected officials to understand the science, to take the threats seriously, and treat them as more than just an opportunity for American industry and new job creation.  It is the most serious problem facing all of humanity, including Americans.


Mark W. Anderson

About Mark W. Anderson

I am proud to be a Mainer, born in Caribou and schooled at Brewer High School, Bowdoin College, and the University of Maine. I am grateful for a 35 year career at UMaine, the last decade in the School of Economics.