While the Democratic Party Platform Committee fell short of embracing a carbon tax and an outright ban on fracking, the Clinton and Sanders camps did come together to agree that it’s time for the Justice Department to investigate fossil fuel companies for potential fraud. Bill McKibben presented the motion to the platform committee on Friday.
Right now, 17 attorneys general here in the United States are investigating allegations that ExxonMobil misled the public about how the company’s business model threatens the planet and public health. Those allegations are based on reports from InsideClimate News, the Guardian and the LA Times, which show that nearly 40 years ago, Exxon’s own scientists had started warning about the dangers of relentlessly burning CO2 into the atmosphere.
And while the Democratic Party is attempting to establish itself as the “party of climate justice,” the Republican Party is working hard to stall action at every turn.
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Thirteen Republican attorneys general wrote in a letter earlier this month that, “using law enforcement authority to resolve a public policy debate undermines the trust invested and threatens free speech.”
The problem is, fraud and deceit isn’t covered under First Amendment free speech protections, and the issue at hand isn’t a “public policy debate,” it’s scientific consensus. In fact, it’s such a matter of scientific consensus that Dr. Michael Mann told the Democratic Party Platform Committee that we really don’t even need to be collecting data or testing models to prove that the climate is changing, because we can just turn on the TV and see the evidence.
The historic 100-year floods in West Virginia that killed dozens of people have gotten plenty of media attention, especially the dramatic video of a burning house floating down a flooded valley. But few commentators have bothered to mention that West Virginia and the surrounding region of the country have seen a 71 percent increase in precipitation since 1958, because a warmer atmosphere also holds more moisture.
On the other side of the country, in California, wildfires have burned across nearly 100,000 acres of forest already this year, and we’re still early in the wildfire season. Wildfires aren’t just getting bigger though. The season now lasts almost 10 weeks longer on average than it did in the 1970s, thanks to a number of factors, including the fact that ice is melting from the Rocky Mountains earlier every year, and the fact that summers are getting hotter and drier on average. A historic heat wave that stretches from California to Missouri has helped fuel those wildfires, and has killed at least five people in Arizona in the month of June.
We’re seeing increased flooding along our coasts thanks to rising seas that are forcing people to leave their houses while destroying our natural estuaries and wetlands and wiping out the economies that depend on them.
Warmer oceans are feeding increasingly more frequent superstorms like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, and year after year, hurricane seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.
And that’s just a glimpse at the impacts of climate change around the United States.
Across the world, we’re seeing stressed water resources and dryer soils that threaten agriculture and regional stability, like we’ve already seeing with the rise of ISIS and the Syrian Civil War.
We’re seeing tropical diseases like the Zika virus and malaria spreading across the planet and threatening public health as the world becomes wetter, warmer and more tropical.
We’re seeing coral bleaching and ocean acidification that threatens life as we know it in our oceans, destroys the livelihoods of coastal communities across the planet and could cost the global economy up to $24 trillion in assets.
We’re seeing more atmospheric blocks like the so-called “ridiculously resilient ridge” that contributes to major prolonged weather events like the extreme wildfires in Alberta and Alaska that forced more than 80,000 people to evacuate their homes earlier this year.
Like Dr. Michael Mann told the Democratic National Committee, everywhere we look, we are now seeing the impacts of climate change. And it’s time that the United States become a world leader in the pursuit of climate justice for the millions of current victims of climate change across the world, and for the future generations that will be living with the consequences of our fossil fuel dependency.
As a country, we need to pass an outright ban on fracking, we need to pass a tax on carbon and methane emissions, and we need to invest in a Green New Deal to make our economy 100 percent fossil-free.
But right now, the Democrats have taken a good first step by coming together as a party to call for the Justice Department to investigate what companies like ExxonMobil knew about climate change, when they knew it and whether they misled their investors and the American public.