Blogs > Sara Gutterman > November 2013 > The Dark Shadow of Climate Change Politics

The Dark Shadow of Climate Change Politics

It’s disheartening that climate change remains a politically charged issue, particularly since its consequences affect everyone, everywhere, in all geographies and walks of life.

Just this week, I’ve seen stories about how the Chamber of Commerce is now lobbing against the Environmental Protection Agency, backing legislation that would diminish the EPA’s ability to regulate emissions from power plants, claiming that the Clean Air Act is “not the appropriate vehicle to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.” Huh?

Despite the elephant-sized disconnect in the Chamber of Commerce’s argument, the organization asserts that limits on greenhouse gas emissions for power plants will raise power prices with “negative implications extending to nearly every segment of the economy.” Clearly, these folks are so blinded by their struggle to cling to remnant business models that they are missing the beckoning call of innovation. Rather than engaging in what will inevitably be a losing battle, it seems they’d be better off investing their time and capital into developing disruptive technologies will open up new opportunities for enhanced financial gain.

In other recent politically-charged climate related news, two Senators from Ohio have proposed a ban on the use of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system for public buildings. The stated argument is that LEED does not follow American National Standards Institute (ANSI) consensus procedures and therefore should not be used as a rating system of record. However, the scuttlebutt among the greenies is that these Senators are simply leveraging this line of reasoning as an easy way around the mandating of high performing buildings, which seems to be a valid assessment since they’re pushing for a ban altogether as opposed to the acceptance of equivalent programs or rating systems.

In actuality, the political slant of the climate debate has become nonsensical, filled with rhetoric and emotion that is extraneous and, ultimately, distracts us all from the real issues at hand.

Whether we like it or not, everyone is already affected by climate change. Climate change has no concern or proclivity for gender, race, class, occupation, or sexual orientation. It should not be a political issue. But, it is a social and financial one, which means that the dark shadow of politics inevitably follows.

Which is wholly ironic, since those who are most affected by climate change have the least amount of political currency. Poor people and developing countries are expected to bear the brunt of climate change, since they lack the resources necessary to adequately deal with reconstruction, migration, or adaptation. Because of this lack of resources, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that consequences of climate change will exacerbate poverty in low income countries and create new poverty pockets in middle and high income nations.

In fact, only four developed nations are included in the top 20 countries that are expected to be hit hardest by climate change. According to Germanwatch, a Berlin-based environmental organization that releases an annual Global Climate Risk Index, Honduras, Myanmar, and Haiti suffered the most from climate related disasters between 1993 and 2012.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) forecasts that, over the next decade, Bangladesh, Sudan, Siberia, Australia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, and the Philippines will be most severely affected—environmentally, socially, and economically—due to rising sea levels, escalating drought, increased flooding, and, in Siberia’s case, melting permafrost.

In the face of accelerating frequency and severity of devastating natural disasters (there was one single billion-dollar storm event per year in the 1980s, two per year in the 1990s, five per year in 2010 in 2011, and fourteen in 2012), I can’t help but wonder—will climate change be the thing that ultimately unites or divides us? Will it be the great equalizer that levels the playing field between rich and poor, black and white, Muslim and Jew, or will bring out the savage instincts that degrade us into hatred and spite, civil war and further global destruction?

I suppose that we’ll find out soon enough in our own country. According to a report commissioned by Congress entitled Climate of the Southeast United States: Variability, Change, Impacts, and Vulnerability, temperatures in the Southeast are expected to warm as much as 9 degrees, stresses on the water supply are projected to increase significantly, and sea levels are expected to rise up to 5 feet by the end of this century, effectively flooding communities up and down the coastline. The report, which reviewed data from 13 southern states and territories (Florida to Virginia, Puerto Rico to Kentucky), is likely the harbinger of a massive northern migration of apocalyptic proportions (for those who chose to flee from the swelter), and it also sets the stage for a raging bout of horrendous infighting (for those who want to go down with the ship).

I suspect that when the tide rises—literally and figuratively—the sizzle of leveraging the issue of climate change to push a political agenda will become as stale as yesterday’s breakfast. At that time, perhaps we will divorce ourselves from the shackles of our old story, and free ourselves to marry the truth.

How can we more fully embrace the reality of climate change? Write to me at or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

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Posted: 11/13/2013 2:05:05 PM by Mary Kestner | with 1 comments

Bert Gurganus
Thank you for this commentary, Sara.

The part of this I take issue with is the idea that poor people and developing nations will bear the brunt of climate change. That is the short-term view. In reality, if we do nothing significant about drastically reducing our carbon emissions, the effects are going to be felt by all of us. Maybe the wealthier nations will be able to retrench a bit better than the poorer ones, but once the tipping point is reached, we're all in the soup together.

Many scientists admit that we do not know the sequence or rapidity with which our climate could change in horrifically devastating ways. What we are seeing now is gradual change, but the effects are adding up quickly on the negative side. What will happen when multiple planetary climatic influences change rapidly and cause catastrophic changes that we cannot now predict? The system of environmental balance on our fragile planet's surface is so interconnected that small changes in one area could result in huge changes in other areas.

The Chamber of Commerce, like the overwhelming majority of the corporate world, is worried first and foremost about profit and economic growth. As long as these people choose to worry more about the balance sheet than the health of the ecosystems that allow us and the other inhabitants of this wonderful orb to exist, we are destined to hurtle toward the cliff of catastrophe.

Our leaders are not facing the reality and our media are whistling past the graveyard. It's up to all of us to wake up and change our lifestyles for he sake of the survival of all life on the globe.

Climate change is not going to destroy the planet. The planet will probably survive anything we do to it. It is life as we know it that will be destroyed if we don't act now and act decisively.
11/15/2013 10:11:36 PM

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