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SPOTLIGHT
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While planet melts, GOP pleads ignorance

Published on -6/11/2014, 10:00 AM

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It is irreversible now.

And there's a word that should get everybody's attention. Last month, two groups of scientists, publishing separately in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters, issued reports that came to alarmingly similar conclusions: The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet has reached a point of no return. If greenhouse gases stopped spewing forth tomorrow, we'd still face the grim prospect of steadily rising seas from this unstoppable melt.

So it would be a good idea to save what ice we still can. Or else condemn our grandchildren to vie for beach-front property in St. Louis on a planet of shrinking land, diminishing resources and growing population.

This week, thankfully, the Obama administration -- once noteworthy chiefly for its disinterested torpor where climate change is concerned -- proposed politically risky new Environmental Protection Agency standards requiring deep cuts in carbon pollution levels at U.S. power plants by 2030. And the opposition party? Their attitude is summed up by the headline of a recent story on Politico: "Republicans on climate science: don't ask us."

Writer Darren Goode reports the GOP has adopted a new global warming "talking point." Which is they are not equipped to talk about it. As in Speaker John Boehner telling reporters, "Listen, I'm not qualified to debate the science over climate change." And Florida Gov. Rick Scott demurring, "I am not a scientist." And a spokeswoman for the billionaire Koch brothers, the deep pockets of the right wing, saying, "We are not experts on climate change."

The gutlessness, disingenuousness and sheer cynicism of this new tack are difficult to overstate.

For the record, most of us are not experts on climate science. But most of us have the good sense to listen to those who are.

The right, however, prefers to pretend there is some sort of "debate" in the scientific community about whether human activity is raising the temperature of our one and only planet. There isn't. Indeed, that finding is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. This, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science that, with 121,000 members, is the world's largest general science group.

So the GOP's "debate" is three scientists out of a hundred. Heck, you probably could find three scientists out of a hundred who think smoking is good for you.

Our planet is at a point of crisis. The ice is melting, the sea levels are rising, the oceans are acidifying, drought patterns are changing, precipitation is increasing, extreme weather is growing ever more common. Yet for Boehner, the salient issue is "every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs."

Not to be glib about unemployment and recession, but if asked to choose between dinging the U.S. economy and killing the planet on which that economy depends -- assuming that were even a real choice -- it's hard to imagine most of us would prioritize the former. And if the Democrats' ideas are so bad, fine. Where are the Republican proposals? As was the case with health care, why are they once again late in their discovery of a critical problem and bereft of serious solutions therefor?

Here is an idea. The two parties should work together as if they were composed of adults to find a way to save our planet. Instead, the GOP is buck-passing with an eye on the midterms. Ninety-seven percent of experts say we don't have time for these shenanigans, yet Boehner and company pretend there's still some kind of "debate" going on. Ninety-seven percent.

Maybe the GOP isn't good at science, but surely they understand basic math.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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