Scientists generally hate to make public political statements, but my familiarity with environmental and climate science compels me to do so. The concise version of the following, more lengthy post is this: vote for Democrats on Tuesday in general, and Ben Florsheim for mayor in particular. They are most likely to act now on the climate and will be less resistant to public demands to do so in the future. I am not a single issue voter, but this issue looms ever larger and will dominate the public conversation in future years here, as it does in other places where the damage already being done is severe. If Middletown begins to get a grip on the situation today, the imperative to do so in the years ahead will be less of a mad and tumultuous scramble.
Taking increasingly aggressive action to address climate change should not be a political issue. Political parties should be making efforts to outdo one another to demonstrate their commitment to heading off the worst impacts of this existential threat after years of bipartisan neglect.
When air and water pollution were the big environmental issues fifty years ago, there was a Republican in the White House, and legislation was passed with bipartisan support in the form of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Before and after that time, presidents and congresses led by both parties enacted legislation that prioritized the environment.
Climate change, unlike air and water pollution, was hard to perceive at first. It was necessary to trust scientists that Bad Things were coming. But now the first impacts of global warming on the climate have arrived. Extremely warm summer weather in the Arctic. Rapid melting of the ice caps and glaciers. "Sunny day" flooding of coastal cities as the sea level rises. Odd winter weather due to the increasingly squirrely jet stream. Changed bloom times and later frosts in the fall. Less reliable rainfall and stronger storms that stall as steering winds weaken. Worldwide increases in mortality as heat waves worsen. And fires. Unprecedented fires that have introduced us to the idea of fire tornadoes. Understanding the reality of climate change no longer requires imagination and trust (please see this previous post for a number of informative links).
These impacts and more are guaranteed for the near term, as increased heating from greenhouse gas accumulations in the past warms Earth to a new, higher temperature. The effects of past emissions are "baked in", as it were. But that means that worse impacts are on the horizon, and current and future emissions will result in further impacts we have a hard time envisioning. Greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, though nations are beginning to shoulder their responsibilities under the Paris Agreement and we can hope that we will begin to see results in the coming years. While more climate disruption is a certainty, there is hope that the worst impacts can still be evaded.
Against this backdrop, every political entity, from national to state to local governments, must take action for two reasons. First, reducing greenhouse gas emissions has become an all-hands-on-deck situation. Second, each level of government has unique levers to pull. The different advantages of different levels of government can complement and reinforce one another. The municipal level may feel like the weakest, but of course it is in towns and cities that the impacts of climate change are felt.
Most mayors understand this, and organizations of mayors have been among the most active in attempting to generate support at higher levels of government while doing what they can locally with the resources available to them. Cities and towns have a unique responsibility to plan. A federal regulation can be reversed fairly quickly, but built infrastructure lasts decades, even centuries. An awareness of climate change at the local level is now essential to guide planning if money and resources are not to be squandered.
Mitigation — reducing the harm of our emissions — and adaptation — preparing to face the harm that cannot be avoided — are the two prongs of a successful approach to the future. It is still hard for us here in Connecticut to realize that a sizable effort by the city will need to be devoted to climate change in the future. But residents of Miami or in the California wine country have no such difficulty. The more thought is put into mitigation and adaptation now, the better positioned we will for the future.
So how to explain the dismissiveness with which Seb Giuliano treats climate change? It's a very trendy position among Republicans, and it is truly a shame that environmental issues in general and climate change in particular have been rendered partisan by this Republican retreat. The strange evolution of the Republican Party has been the subject of a lot of discussion elsewhere. The bottom line is that it looks as though a Giuliano administration would be deaf to the signals about climate change coming toward us from all directions.
Ben Florsheim, on the other hand, has made awareness of the threat an element of his campaign. One of his campaign mailers suggests Middletown should run municipal government on renewable energy. This says to me that he would try to employ currently available technology to make Middletown a more sustainable city. Technology, I might add, that has become inexpensive enough to compete with fossil energy — maybe it would even save the city money. Though I can't speak for Mr. Florsheim, I think he would likely add his voice to the chorus of mayors demanding action and support from the state and federal level. Sustainability is going to mean resilience as we move toward a future with greater environmental and economic uncertainty, and investments sooner will pay big dividends later.
In summary, I urge Middletown residents to consider the importance of electing a climate-change-aware mayor and council members and to vote accordingly on Tuesday. The rejuvenated Middletown Democratic Party is offering us some fresh faces who will at the very least be more nimble when it comes to responding to changes, in the climate and elsewhere.