29 august 2016

US election: Nobody is talking about climate change

People are afraid that doing something about global warming will make them poorer

Edward Luce, Financial Times, Augst 29, 2016

You would never guess it from the US election. But for the third year running the world is on course to exceed a record temperature in 2016 — having suffered the hottest July in history last month. People are right to worry their children may not have it as good as they did. Yet the changing planet plays little role in their foreboding. By any barometer, US politics has hit extreme weather in 2016, yet global warming ranks near the bottom on the list of voter concerns. Illegal immigration, on the other hand, is near the top, even though net inflows came to a halt five years ago. Is democracy on course to duck the biggest challenge of our age?


**** Global warming is no longer just a documentary film by Al Gore. It is affecting our daily lives in a growing number of ways. Last month, America’s east coast suffered from an unusually long “heat dome” — summer temperatures so high the authorities in New York, Washington and elsewhere urged people to keep their children inside and stay well hydrated. My home in Washington was hit by two nights of electricity outage. The power company’s crew said they expected many more such cuts. Their underground cables were not designed to withstand so many days of daytime temperatures near 100F (38C).

People living in southern California, which has suffered from a rise in the ferocity of wildfires; Louisiana, which earlier this month was flooded by “once-in-a-thousand-year” rainfall; or large tracts of midwest America, where drought is no longer freakish, are feeling the anecdotal force of climate change. Westerners may find it hard to identify with people in the Gulf, where years of growing heat intensity threaten to make it uninhabitable. But they feel the impact when insurance rates shoot up in low-lying coastal areas, such as Florida, Alabama and even New Jersey.

Climate alarm is no longer a monopoly of environmentalists. Earlier this month, Zillow, an online property site, forecast that one in eight homes in Florida would be underwater by the end of the century. You might want to think twice about buying that beachfront home in Miami. The big reinsurance companies last month called on Washington to take urgent steps to stop catastrophe, which threatens to make nonsense of their risk models. Meanwhile, farmers in the midwest fret about the uncertainty of “extreme weather”. But can voters connect the dots? Will their experience of climate change translate into public action?


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