Editor’s let­ter

The Week (US) - - 3 - Wil­liam Falk

“It is dif­fi­cult to get a man to un­der­stand some­thing when his salary de­pends on his not un­der­stand­ing it.” Up­ton Sin­clair said this nearly a cen­tury ago, but it con­tin­ues to ex­plain much, in­clud­ing many Amer­i­cans’ adamant re­fusal to ac­cept the re­al­ity of cli­mate change. In the past three weeks, two mon­strous hur­ri­canes of his­toric in­ten­sity dev­as­tated large swathes of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Cli­mate change didn’t cause Har­vey and Irma, but cli­ma­tol­o­gists sus­pect a warm­ing planet made these killer hur­ri­canes more de­struc­tive. (To­tal dam­age: up­wards of $200 bil­lion.) It’s sim­ple physics: Hur­ri­canes draw their en­ergy from warm ocean waters, and the Gulf, Caribbean, and south­ern At­lantic are sig­nif­i­cantly warmer right now than their his­toric norms. Warmer air also can carry more mois­ture. Har­vey dumped more rain on Hous­ton—about 50 inches—than any storm in U.S. his­tory. Irma howled at 180 mph for 37 hours, a record, and was the sec­ond Cat­e­gory 4 storm to hit the U.S. in three weeks. Co­in­ci­dence?

Per­haps. But this is where pay­checks, mo­ti­vated rea­son­ing, and tribal pol­i­tics en­ter the pic­ture. As Ron Brown­stein points out in CNN.com this week, the U.S. can be di­vided into “high car­bon” and “low car­bon” states. High car­bon states pro­duce large amounts of oil, gas, and coal, and rely on in­dus­tries that burn lots of fos­sil fu­els. They are in­vari­ably “red” or Repub­li­can. Low car­bon states, lo­cated mainly on the coasts, have economies that de­pend mostly on fi­nan­cial, ser­vice, and in­for­ma­tion-age com­pa­nies. They are blue. In red states like Wy­oming, North Dakota, and Texas, the per-capita car­bon diox­ide emis­sion lev­els also are much higher, be­cause they’re largely ru­ral and peo­ple rely on cars and ma­chin­ery. In 2016, Pres­i­dent Trump car­ried 20 of the 21 states with the high­est per capita car­bon emis­sions. In these states, the im­pli­ca­tions of ac­cept­ing cli­mate change are un­der­stand­ably alarm­ing—more alarm­ing, ev­i­dently, than even two Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­canes. Editor-in-chief

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