By now you are probably aware of the major flooding that happened over the last several days in Missouri. Larry Lazar gave us a guest post detailing his personal experiences in Eureka, where the flooding was extensive. This flooding is not over, but is simply moving down stream in the Mississippi watershed. It will take several days before this is over.
We are long past the days when one can honestly say “you can’t attribute a given weather event to climate change.” Climate is weather long term, and weather is climate in the here and now. Climate has changed because of anthropogenic global warming. It is simply incorrect to say that the two are unrelated.
With a warmer atmosphere, there is more water vapor aloft. Changes in the relationship between the tropics and the Arctic, that relationship being a key determinate in how weather works, have changed how weather patterns develop. These changes cause precipitation to clump up, so some areas get more than the usual amount of rain while other areas experience less. These changes have also slowed down the movement of storms, so wet weather hangs around longer in one area.
More rain, clumped, and slowed down, means more frequent and more severe flooding, and we have seen plenty of that this past year, and a general increase over the last couple of decades. The increase in severity and frequency of flooding that was manifest just now in Missouri is the result of human caused disruption of atmospheric systems and this chaotic weather literally rains down on us from that atmosphere.
Now we turn to an irony, and an exemplar of an important and troubling phenomenon. The irony is that one small piece of the loss of property this flooding caused in Missouri was severe damage to the campaign headquarters of former Missouri House representative (District 110) Timothy Jones. Jones is a long time climate science denier. He is no longer in elected office, by his own choice, but Jones wrote that as he plans “… to continue my public service in the future, I am keeping all options open for 2018 and beyond to serve our state and our nation.” That facility is also used, according to Jones and others, to host Republican political meetings and events.
That is the irony, obviously, but I’ll develop the ironic nature of this small event more in a bit. The phenomenon that is so troubling is the concerted effort of politicians and others to work against addressing climate change. This is not a new thing. The fossil fuel industry, large players such as the Koch brothers, and famous politicians such as Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe have been working to discredit climate science and stop the shift towards clean (non-fossil) fuels for decades. Tim Jones has been and is a local player in that effort.
Let me be clear. We knew about climate change decades ago. In the 1970s, we also learned how precarious our national security and economic system can be in its reliance on fossil fuels.
There was a brief time back in the 70s when efficiency in fuel use was seen as a good thing, even a necessary thing. There were changes in zoning laws, speed limits on our interstates, automobile efficiency standards, appliance efficiency ratings, and all that. But around the same time and subsequently, “green” approaches to energy, slower speed limits, efficiency in building practices, and the development of solar and wind energy became conservative (read: Republican) issues but not in a good way.
As our nation transformed into not just a two party system, but a two ideology system, the right has taken up the challenge, effectively, of putting the kibosh on pretty much every move an individual, company, industry, public agency, or government might make to meaningfully reduce the use of fossil fuels and, in so doing, reduce our contribution to ever-increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere.
Imagine for a moment what might have happened if we treated both energy and climate change using that good old fashioned American approach that gave us victory over fascism in World War II, the Manhattan Project (for better or worse), and several trips to the moon. After 40 years of effort, leading the world in similar efforts, we would not be at 400+ parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. Simply put, had we stepped up back when we first realized the need and benefits of so doing, we would not have be experiencing the climate disruption we are now experiencing.
Today’s climate disruption was underwritten by, enhanced by – really, caused by – climate change science deniers and green energy opponents like Tim Jones and his ilk. They didn’t just question the science or make a fair stab at supporting oil and coal interests. They made disruptive climate change happen.
So, when Tim Jones finds his vaguely labeled headquarters destroyed by a flood that would have been unlikely decades ago but that today is virtually inevitable, and that will repeat frequently, it is all about chickens. What kind of chicken? The kind that occasionally come home. To roost.
I would not have even noticed that Jones’ headquarters had been destroyed had he not done something that is astonishingly insensitive and inappropriate. Jones is a popular and powerful Republican, statewide, in Missouri. He has raised a lot of money. As of January 2015 Jones had nearly one million dollars in his campaign coffers. Given the ruined status of his headquarters, it would be a simple matter to fund repair and renovations beyond whatever insurance coverage he had on the place. But instead of simply paying the piper that he himself helped invite to the party, he started a Go Fund Me campaign so that his supporters, who had suffered through this flood, could pay for those repairs.
Tim Jones’ Go Fund Me campaign is a poignant reminder of the situation. He has denied the human role in climate, he now denies that the flood that destroyed his offices is related to climate change, and now he is denying responsibility for the fiscal loss.
He is asking his former constituents and current supporters, who themselves have lost about two dozen loved ones and family members to flood related deaths and as yet uncounted millions of dollars in property, to buy him some new drywall. What a guy.
At the time that he announced he would no longer be seeking election, Jones accepted a job as a senior policy fellow with the Hammond Institute for Free Enterprise, housed at Lindenwood University. Lindenwood announced, within a day of Jones’ announcement that he would be joining Hammond, the award of a $2 million grant from … wait for it … the Charles Koch Foundation.
Meanwhile, since the flood, Jones has been making quite a stink on his Twitter feed, calling people who understand that climate change is real and important various names such as “Eco-Nazi,” “Libnuts,” etc. These offensive tweets are not important … that’s what people do on twitter. But seeing them interspersed with tweets begging for donations to fix up his headquarters is more than a little annoying, knowing that he has about a million bucks in the bank.
First I wanted to know if Larry had any inkling as to why Jones, if he is not in office, still uses the title “speaker” as part of his Twitter handle. Larry told me that a friend of his opined, “He doesn’t want to relinquish the title just as a President doesn’t lose his/her title. I saw this in a twitter conversation with him and someone else months ago.” This makes sense given some of his tweets today, in which he announced the development, at his flooded headquarters, of a sort of “Tim Jones Library.” Imagine that.
In one of his Tweets, Jones suggested that those concerned with climate change quiet down and go away, noting that the flood had happened five days ago and was no big deal. I asked Larry how he felt to learn that the state rep who formerly represented him indicated that the flood was not an important event. He told me,
My immediate thought upon seeing his flood damaged office was “What will it take for him to get it?” Tim has been an outspoken denier of climate science since he has been in office. While he has no expertise in climate science he has shared his views in opposition of climate science for many years via conservative radio and social media like Twitter and Facebook.
I should be shocked, but I know Tim’s opposition to climate change science all too well as he has been very active on conservative radio and social media – like twitter. I was?still surprised that he could be so insensitive given all of the devastation that our community and many others in Missouri have experienced. Most of these folks are uninsured and don’t have financial resources available to them like the wealthy do. I thought he could at least pretend to be concerned ?about the folks, many of whom have voted for him and supported him financially, that?have?may have lost their homes and?other property.
Let’s look at the bigger picture for a moment. Missouri is a pretty red state. How well a clean energy project does in a given state has a lot to do with the legislature and prevailing powerful interests. I was wondering what was going on in Missouri in this area. I asked Larry if the Missouri state government, where Tim Jones and a lot of similar minded Republicans have served or do serve to represent the people, has been doing what it needs to do to make it easier for individual citizens and companies to use cleaner energy sources. Larry gave me a long and thoughtful answer to that question, which I’ll pass on in its entirety.
Missouri gets 80% of our energy from dirty coal – which is imported from Wyoming. Neighboring states like Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska are harnessing renewable energy sources at much higher rates than Missouri. I often wonder if the fact that St. Louis is the world headquarters for 5 coal companies, including Peabody, the world’s largest coal company, contributes to our continued reliance on coal. Peabody, as well as Ameren, which is Missouri’s largest energy utility, are both large contributors to political campaigns – for both parties. The result of this unholy alliance is that Missouri has very few incentives, both at the individual, and corporate levels, to switch to cleaner energy.
I wish Missouri could lead on climate. If only Missouri leaders would recognize the great economic opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs, businesses and individuals by leading on climate change instead of clinging to denial that, frankly, is absurd. We have outstanding scientific expertise in our universities and businesses as well as hard-working and intelligent people. Why not leverage these resources and put Missouri in a leadership position on climate? Let Missourians go to work on climate. We can solve this – and Missouri should lead.
I would also ask Missouri leaders to reflect on what their legacy will be. In 20, 30 or 50 years what will their children and grandchildren say about them? What will be in the history books about what actions they took, or didn’t take, on climate change and other issues back in the early decades of the 21st century? Did they act upon what many scientists say is humankind’s greatest challenge or did they persist in denial and delay, apparently for the benefit of a few exceptionally wealthy contributors to their campaigns?
Thanks to Larry Lazar for his help in figuring this all out, and thanks to Tim Jones for being such a great example of what is wrong with this country.
Oh by the way: Republican Politics in Missouri
Not directly related to the issue at hand, but very relevant to the state of Republican politics in the Show Me state, is this pair of suicides and related political intriquge, antisemitism, and as Rachel Meadow calls it, Shakespearian Tragedy. This is the first story in the March 30th, 2015 Rachel Maddow Show: