Mark today. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what my grandmother would have called the "Katy bar the door" report on climate change. It is the product of the sober work by hundreds of actual climate scientists. Read it for yourself. Please.
And mark the day you knew, without doubt. Climate change is real, human-made, happening now with growing costs — and the worst is yet to come. Especially if we do nothing.
Someday historians will note the curious contrasts of our time. So much of the public square is dominated by scolds with their calculators, talking about what we can't afford, how the cost side of the ledger must be the deciding factor in any debate.
Yet these are the same people who block any attempt to show the astronomic costs of doing nothing to stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere.
Those historians will shake their heads at our myths about "makers and takers," "bootsrappers" vs. "welfare queens" and the widespread belief that government was an impediment to the efficient, justified workings of "the free market."
In fact, the climate nightmare that is their world will be a product of a gamed market, corporate welfare and plutocrat takers such as the Koch brothers. Fossil fuels that should have been kept safely in the ground were instead burned up because of public incentives and subsidies, government on the side of Big Oil and Big Coal.
They will study the speeches of a progressive president extolling oil drilling and promising a hundred years of natural gas. His opponents vilified him for not doing enough to burn greenhouse gases fast enough. In reality, the profits went to the few. The costs were paid by the many, for generations.
Looking back, American inaction on climate change will seem especially odd. This was a nation that endlessly proclaimed its "exceptionalism" and saw its national interests everywhere — Syria, Ukraine, hunting for a warlord in Africa — even as the "homeland" fell behind. Yet Washington was unwilling to lead on addressing climate change.
This dissonance will be especially telling as they examine the archives where persons called "climate change deniers" — once climate change became undeniable outside the lunatic fringe — still stopped action. How? By reiterating how much was unknown about the effects of climate change, the many questions that couldn't be answered with enough certainty to justify...well, doing much of anything.
And yet, these were almost always the same people who enthusiastically supported disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, adventures that held enormous unanswered questions, "unknown unknowns," and in some cases prosecuted on outright lies.
Climate scientists were dismissed as "alarmists" even as the nation was led into its longest wars by leaders warning about avoiding "the next mushroom cloud." Where were Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? The monetary cost of this recklessness: Between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. Even now, mission has not been accomplished.
What may confound historians most is how the United States, although always a religious nation, went from a country whose power was based on widespread learning and robust science to a strange confection of theocracy and anti-intellectualism, at least on the part of an energized plurality. This fueled the paralysis that led to cataclysm.
What could we have done?
We could have taxed carbon and invested in a Manhattan Project for renewable energy, existing renewables that met the EIEO test, passenger trains and transit. We could have stopped incentives for fossil fuels and prices them accordingly. Yes, customs are difficult to change. But the alternative is a nightmare.
Had we done this, other advanced nations would have followed. China, seeing the strategic and economic advantages of our path — not to mention worries about the social instability from its pollution — would have done so, too. Right there, most of the emissions would have been addressed.
These wouldn't have been "solutions." We are about a decade or more beyond that. But they would have been intelligent responses that would have backed us away from the point of no return.
Instead, we had to keep the cars going at all costs.
As for Phoenix and Arizona, I have no hope for intelligent responses. Mine would center around stopping sprawl; substantially raising taxes, especially on the better off, both to fund infrastructure and creation of a quality economy, whole slowing and even reversing population growth; building transportation alternatives to single-occupancy car trips; enhancing the central city oasis — yes! — and withdrawing to the sustainable footprint of the Salt River Project with a population of perhaps 2 million in high-quality density. Drought makes this effort more urgent.
I know. Never happen. Better to kill every living tree and plant in central Phoenix to support more all-white subdivisions and gated properties on the ever-expanding fringes with championship golf!
The sprawl and the cars, the concrete and the parking lagoons must be kept going at all costs. And they will be. At all costs.
As disruption and conflict cause the 10,000-mile supply chain to break down, Phoenicians might even wonder about their food security. Few will realize that they paved over the best place in the Southwest for farming. They don't have to shovel sunshine — oh, they will have more of that than they can endure — but they can't eat golf balls, tract houses and asphalt.
The West is a place of rough justice. Climate change will apportion it here without mercy.