The New York Times’ most activist environmental reporter Justin Gillis is leaving the paper, but not before one last Cassandra-style wail on the front of the Science section keyed to the recent major hurricanes that have hit the South: “The Unpredictable Human Factor.” Gillis, who has a knack for getting scary yet inaccurate stories on the paper’s front page, employed a condescending “told you so” tone apparently endemic to environmentalists. And another reporter's front-page story from Miami blamed low taxes and Republicans for the destruction waged by the likes of Hurricane Irma.
First a taste of Gillis's superior tone:
As Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast, few people in that state seemed to understand the nature of the looming danger.
The bulletins warned of rain falling in feet, not inches. Experts pleaded with the public to wake up. J. Marshall Shepherd, head of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia and a leading voice in American meteorology, wrote ahead of the storm that “the most dangerous aspect of this hurricane may be days of rainfall and associated flooding.”
Now we know how events in Texas turned out.
Dr. Shepherd and his colleagues have spent their careers issuing a larger warning, one that much of the public still chooses to ignore. I speak, of course, about the risks of climate change.
Because of atmospheric emissions from human activity, the ocean waters from which Harvey drew its final burst of strength were much warmer than they ought to have been, most likely contributing to the intensity of the deluge. If the forecasts from our scientists are anywhere close to right, we have seen nothing yet.
Scientists urged decades ago that we buy ourselves some insurance by cutting emissions. We yawned. Even today, when millions of people have awakened to the danger, tens of millions have not. So the political demand for change is still too weak to overcome the entrenched interests that want to block it.
In Washington, progress on climate change has stalled. The administration has announced its intent to withdraw from the global Paris climate accord. And top Trump appointees insist that the causes of climate change are too uncertain and the scientific forecasts too unreliable to be a basis for action.
This argument might have been halfway plausible 20 years ago -- or, if you want to be generous, even 10 years ago. But today?
As the challenges in the real world worsen, some senior Republicans continue to question the link between human-caused emissions and rising temperatures
Gillis quoted EPA head Scott Pruitt, then sneered:
Note that he acknowledges the planet is warming. Note that he offers no alternative hypothesis about the cause of that warming -- nor will he ever, for the simple reason that there is no plausible alternative. But still, he clings to uncertainty as a reason to do nothing.
Gillis stood up for scientific predictions (even though the recent global warming hiatus caught them all off guard):
The sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing in front of our eyes. Even more ominously, land ice is melting at an accelerating pace, threatening a future rise of the sea even faster than that of today.
So despite arguments like Mr. Pruitt’s, a century of climate science has brought us to the point where we can say this definitively: We are running enormous risks. We are putting nothing less than the stability of human civilization on the line.
Tuesday’s edition also featured front-page story by Lizette Alvarez from Miami, “Waters Rise and Hurricanes Roar, but Florida Keeps On Building.” Alvarez blamed low taxes and Republicans for the destruction waged by the likes of Hurricane Irma, though she herself admits the government had much to do with the environmental degradation of the Everglades.
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Many saw last week’s storm as another dress rehearsal for the Big One. But it wasn’t much of a reckoning for a state mostly uninterested in wrestling with the latest round of runaway development, environmental degradation and the mounting difficulties from catastrophic storms....
The Florida Everglades became the symbol for shortsighted intentions gone wrong. The Army Corps of Engineers tried to control the water flow through the Everglades to help the sugar industry flourish and to make way for growth. Instead, the corps’s work crippled the river of grass, and half of the Everglades has disappeared. Every corner of Florida has faced the onslaught of growth.
But in a low-tax state, something has to give....Elsewhere in tax-averse Florida, though, far less is being done, and difficult measures, like revising building codes to protect from flood, are fiercely opposed by developers. The state’s aging infrastructure also makes it harder, and more expensive, to grapple with hurricanes. Federal spending on important projects remains modest as well. So sewer systems, canals, roads, and bridges go mostly neglected.