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Opinion: Crisis, What Crisis? Christie’s Disturbing Views on Climate Change

The governor’s ability to deny evidence -- and reality -- doesn't bode well for a presidential candidate

potter
Credit: Amanda Brown
R. William Potter

Recently Gov. Chris Christie told a startled TV interviewer that global climate change “is not a crisis.” When asked to identify any scientist who supports that view, he replied “the climate has been changing forever … I just don’t buy that. I just don’t buy the fact that it’s a ‘crisis’. I just don’t …”

When pressed further to explain, Christie again answered “…because I don’t believe it is (a crisis). I just don’t see that there’s any evidence that it’s a crisis … I didn’t say I was relying on a scientist.” Repeating himself again he added, “I don’t see evidence that it’s a crisis.”

All this comes shortly after he attacked President Barack Obama for attending the opening ceremonies of the Paris Global Warming Summit -- described by some as “the Earth’s last best hope” for achieving a comprehensive plan to restrain the world’s average temperature rise to “only” 2-degrees C or 3.6-degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature limit that may be enough to prevent the worst of the anticipated planetary disasters. Not all of them, just the worst.

Calling Obama’s two-day trip to Paris “an insult” and an “embarrassment,” Christie argued that instead of going to Paris for the opening speeches by the assembled world leaders, Obama should have stayed home and devoted himself exclusively to protecting the nation from the looming ISIS threats.

Christie’s “not a crisis” assertions about climate change are so disturbing it’s hard to know where to begin, but here goes:

Notice that he does not flatly deny the reality of global climate changes -- almost all of them terrible -- but he implies that we should not take action now to mitigate global warming because it is not yet at “crisis” stage, however he defines that term. Presumably, he means we should wait until the “crisis” is upon us before responding.

That’s like saying a patient should ignore mounting evidence of a fatal tumor until it’s at a crisis stage, which will probably be too late to do anything. Ask yourself: With that in mind, what kind of leader will Christie be if elected to the highest office in the nation? Not exactly a proactive or visionary chief executive.

The governor seems to believe he doesn’t need any evidence to support whatever he believes -- or wants us to believe he believes. This notion of “evidence free” decision-making smacks of Pres. George W. Bush who famously said he didn’t need evidence that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.” All he needed to order the invasion of Iraq was whatever his “gut” was telling him.

What news-blackout cocoon is the governor living in, we might ask? Don’t they get “The New York Times” or the Internet in New Hampshire or Iowa, where he’s campaigning full time?

True enough, the Greenland, Arctic, and Antarctic ice caps have not yet melted completely, and sea level has not yet risen by a potential 160 feet, submerging most of New Jersey, along with major coastal cities, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and the like, and even entire countries, like Bangladesh. Such a sea-level rise would usher in an era of mass migrations of climate refugees around the world, which the Pentagon labels an “urgent threat” to international security.

Every climatological model -- unless it's funded by the Koch Brothers -- charts the steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other climate-change agents, such as methane, and points to one conclusion: The earth is rapidly warming to levels not seen in the past 10,000 years. And since CO2 remains in the atmosphere for a hundred years or more, we have to act now. We have already waited too long before replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, as needed to abate the steady increase in the greenhouse effect first noted by a Scottish scientist in 1859.

Put simply, we can’t wait until these crisis conditions are upon us, as Gov. Christie would have us do. To have half a chance of preventing the worst of the horrific scenarios rapidly unfolding -- including vast, already sweltering regions from Texas to India becoming uninhabitably hot -- we need true leadership that begins by recognizing a problem before it is beyond repair.

And we don’t have to look to distant shores or impoverished island nations to find compelling evidence today of a clear and present climate crisis through temperature and sea-level rise. Brenda Ekwurzel, a climatologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, disputed Christie’s claim of no “crisis evidence” by pointing to the likely fate of at least 338,000 of the 1.1 million Garden State residents who live at the Jersey Shore.

“If hurricane Sandy,” she said in an interview with Claude Brodesser-Akner for NJ Advance Media, “had occurred a century ago, the storm surge would have been eight inches to a foot lower,” but the modest, documented sea-level rise transformed Sandy into deadly “storm surge that penetrates an extra half a mile inland.” Some 338,000 New Jerseyans, she added, “live on land falling below future high tide lines.”

So, Gov. Christie, who would become President Christie in 11 months, still no evidence of a climate-change crisis? Not only are you avoiding the real-world evidence that the environment is rapidly approaching the tipping point, your policy of don’t do something until it’s too late bespeaks a destructive failure of leadership that this nation and this world can ill afford.

R. William Potter is a partner in the Princeton-based law firm Potter and Dickson. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or any client.

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