Marco Rubio, as you may have heard, has issued yet another blunt rejection of the whole notion of man-made climate change. “Well, yeah, I don't agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what's happening in our climate,” he said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.” He continued:
“Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that's directly and almost solely attributable to man-made activities…I don't know of any era in world history where the climate has been stable. Climate is always evolving, and natural disasters have always existed… I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. That's what I—and I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”
For this, Rubio has been roundly ridiculed by reality-based commentators. But even their scorn seems to skip over what is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Rubio’s evasion on climate change. It would be one thing if Rubio was trying to downplay man-made climate change if he was the senator from a state that is greatly dependent on drawing fossil fuels out of the earth and pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—say, Oklahoma or West Virginia or North Dakota. But Rubio represents Florida, and is in fact from Miami. Which—how to say this nicely?—is in the process of drowning. A story in last week’s New York Times describes what has become routine in Miami Beach:
The sunny-day flooding was happening again. During high tide one recent afternoon, Eliseo Toussaint looked out the window of his Alton Road laundromat and watched bottle-green saltwater seep from the gutters, fill the street and block the entrance to his front door.
“This never used to happen,” Mr. Toussaint said. “I’ve owned this place eight years, and now it’s all the time.”
Down the block at an electronics store it is even worse. Jankel Aleman, a salesman, keeps plastic bags and rubber bands handy to wrap around his feet when he trudges from his car to the store through ever-rising waters.
Meanwhile, the projections of the damage sea-level rise will do to major American cities show Miami faring worse than any other except New Orleans. A mere five-foot rise would flood 20 percent of Miami and 94 percent of Miami Beach (compared with a mere one percent of Baltimore and seven percent of New York.) A 12-foot-rise would flood all of Miami Beach and 73 percent of Miami. (Tampa doesn’t fare a whole lot better.)
And according to a terrifying new report that went up today at the Times, the odds of such a rise in the not-too-distant future is going up, fast:
The collapse of large parts of the ice sheet in West Antarctica appears to have begun and is almost certainly unstoppable, with global warming accelerating the pace of the disintegration, two groups of scientists reported Monday. The finding, which had been feared by some scientists for decades, means that a rise in global sea level of at least 10 feet may now be inevitable. The rise may continue to be relatively slow for at least the next century or so, the scientists said, but sometime after that it will probably speed up so sharply as to become a crisis.
“This is really happening,” said Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”
Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the new research but has studied the polar ice sheets for decades, said he found the new papers compelling. Though he has long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said.
He added that while a large rise of the sea may now be inevitable from West Antarctica, continued release of greenhouse gases will almost certainly make the situation worse. The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.
“Abandoned.” Got that, senator? To put this in purely self-interested terms: where are you going to put your presidential library in 2032 if Miami is going to be half-underwater a few generations later?* We like to criticize senators and representatives who are too narrowly provincial in their policy preferences—say, the Democratic senators who are opposed to the medical device tax that helps pay for Obamacare, simply because they want to protect a big home-state industry (yes, I’m looking at you, Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren.)
But here we have the spectacle of a senator who is so beholden to the ideological orthodoxy he believes necessary to keep himself viable for the 2016 GOP presidential primaries that he is unable to speak out against something that is not only threatening a home-state industry but the actual state itself. This would seem like something the voters of Florida might want to take note of when they encounter Rubio on the ballot in 2016—whether for reelection as a senator or as a presidential candidate. It’s hard for elected officials in Washington to show their regard for their constituents in this post-earmark era of ours, but one of the minimal requirements would seem to be making even rhetorical feints toward worrying about the permanent flooding of said constituents’ largest cities.
*Monday, 4:30 p.m.: This line has been reworded for sake of clarity.