Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
Give a group of 21 Republican and Democratic Florida mayors credit. When it comes to sea level rise, they live at what might be considered Ground Zero for climate change in the U.S. As Philip Levine, the mayor of Miami Beach, put it, "Some people get swept into office. I floated into office." The group wrote to the moderators of the recent Republican and Democratic debates in Miami asking that the candidates be questioned on the subject. Amazingly enough, though previous debates often didn't even hint that the warming of the planet might be an issue of importance, the questions were indeed asked. It was a rare moment in which the media people leading the debates in this endless primary season bothered to address what could be history's deal-breaker. In the Republican debate, only Marco Rubio and John Kasich got to respond and Rubio offered a classic version of what is now the Republican establishment position on the subject. (On Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, of course, we know from statements elsewhere that they are deniers of the first order -- wildly so.) As it happened, Rubio did forthrightly accept the reality of a changing climate since, as he put it, "the climate has always changed." Doh! And his answer only went downhill from there.
Of course, in the race to do us all in, it's no news that, Kasich aside, the Republicans are so out of step with what the burning of fossil fuels is doing to this planet that it should make your head spin. In recent weeks, for instance, here are a few of the transformations reported or predicted: in February, we learned that January had been the ninth-straight "hottest" month ever experienced and that it was a particular record-setter, being "above normal by the highest margin of any month on record." Then, when the February numbers came in, they, too, were jaw-dropping. And if that wasn't cheery enough news, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere "exploded" to levels not seen in at least 11,000 years and possibly not in millions of years, while across the northern hemisphere the temperature briefly hit 2 degrees Celsius more than the pre-industrial revolution norm for the first time in history, even if only for a few hours. Meanwhile, the vast Greenland ice sheet is melting ever faster in a self-feeding loop of destruction, and that is anything but good news, since a recent study revealed that, even if temperature rises were capped at that two-degree mark, "20% of the world's population will eventually have to migrate away from coasts swamped by rising oceans." And given how long carbon remains in the atmosphere, any such sea level rise will hang in there for at least another 10,000 years.
So it went in the early months of 2016 and that -- though given the pace of melting on this planet, it's a metaphor we might have to abandon one of these days -- is just the tip of the iceberg.
There may only be one area where the present crew of media interrogators and presidential candidates are more out of touch when it comes to asking or answering crucial questions, and that's foreign policy and the national security state. In a piece posted four years ago, during the last set of presidential debates, State Department whistleblower and TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren laid out a series of such questions on foreign and military policy that no one then showed the slightest interest in asking or answering. Like so many things one says (and writes), that was then and this is now and who even remembers? Recently, however, he and I went back and reread that piece, and I must admit that the experience was a heart-sinking one. But let him explain in his latest post, "Back to the Future."