Letter to Editor: Partisan Differences Stand in the Way of Healing Climate Change

In his opening remarks to the Security Panel at the April 22 Leaders Summit on Climate, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stated:

“Today, no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis. … (R)ising temperatures and more frequent and intense extreme weather events in Africa and Central America threaten millions with drought, hunger and displacement. As families risk their lives in search of safety and security, mass migration leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and radicalization, all of which undermine stability.”

In the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, warming oceans are damaging coral reefs and fisheries, while severe drought is causing families to abandon their farms. To quote climate scientist Edwin Castellanos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala: “Extreme poverty may be the primary reason people leave. But climate change is intensifying all the existing factors.”

Many of the consequences of our carbon-dioxide emissions were foreseen. In a 1977 presentation to Exxon management on the greenhouse effect, company science adviser J.F. Black warned that warming the planet would be likely to affect the distribution of the world’s rainfall. According to Black, “Some countries would benefit, but others could have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed.”

And in a 2012 interview, Exxon’s then-CEO Rex Tillerson claimed, “Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around – we’ll adapt to that.”

However, when people leave a place that global warming is rendering uninhabitable, moving is their adaptation. And desperate migrants are often demonized for this.

In light of partisan differences on including climate provisions in the infrastructure bill, and with high-profile visits to the southern border, the United States stands at a crossroads. As the greatest cumulative emitter, what role will our nation play in helping to heal our increasingly hotter and inhospitable world?

Let’s heed the closing words of Secretary Austin: “(N)one of us can tackle this problem alone. We share this planet, and shared threats demand shared solutions.”

Terry Hansen

Hales Corners, Wisconsin