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Commentary & Opinion

Stephen Gottlieb: It’s Time To Go To War Against Climate Change

We’ve almost pulled out of Afghanistan and some are already looking for the next target for our superpower – Iran? North Korea? Americans like to act tough, with fists, muscle, knives, bullets and bombs. To demonstrate our overwhelming force we need another war. Ronald Reagan got that right. We showed them in Granada!Nothing pulls America together like war – except when Bush 43 told Americans they could win a war by going shopping. He did – you could look it up. But war justifies sacrifice and Americans are up to sacrifice – they crave it – to defeat an enemy. They won’t sacrifice for each other – that raises the classic problem of who’s the each and who’s the other. But war needs all of us. We dig that.

Actually, I’m ready for war – against climate change. It’s serious and threatens all of us, now.

Internationally, beyond the flood damage in Europe, as global warming unfreezes Siberia, the map reveals Russia will likely become number 1, the biggest superpower. We’ve got to defeat climate change if we are going to continue to be number 1.

Domestically none of us is immune.

  • We’re already struggling over who gets water – Florida and Georgia just fought a legal battle over water. California farmers and cities are fighting for water. It’s an existential problem for both. Less water will destroy many and kill some. Some of you may have read John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath about how a persistent drought, which became the legendary dustbowl in the breadbasket of America, turned legions of good, hard-working Americans into refugees in their own country. Climate change is already doing that to parts of our country plus forest fires and resulting tornadoes.
  • As water becomes scarcer and more expensive, clean water will become as precious as gold. Where will we collect it and where will we send it. That alone could pit us against each other – better to fight against climate change so we’re all on the same side.
  • New York has the reverse problem, predicted to be much wetter, fighting floods and storms instead of drought.  Hurricanes Irene and Sandy did damage we weren’t used to. Irene brought my secretary to work in tears about the destruction to her town and to her friends and neighbors in the Schoharie Valley. The next year, New York City subways became aqueducts and much of the city was flooded – a 91-year-old cousin on her building’s sixth floor couldn’t get out for necessities. It’s hard not to notice how we’ve frequently been pummeled by rain since. Farmers we deal with have lost crops.
  • The problem becomes political as someone has to decide who gets what from taxes, FEMA or other agencies to rebuild. What dikes or dams will we build to restrain encroaching sea-water or flooded rivers?
  • And how will we protect infrastructure from floods and other damage. As an engineer told me, New York City will no longer function like a city if the water rises – the roads will be covered, subways won’t work, there’ll be no way to get around.

Repairing the damage is an increasingly expensive battle against the inevitable. The best way to fight for the world we love is to fight the change in climate that is making all the damage happen, not just to cushion the blows to the property owners but to bring all the workers threatened by dying industries into the battle, with the jobs we and they both need to fight for the America we all love. Let’s go to war to save the climate.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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