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Opinion: Like it or Not, Heatwaves and Wildfires Have Political Lesson

Monday, July 09, 2012 - 11:29 AM

Air conditioners Air conditioners (Todd Morris/flickr)

"Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

That quote - written by Charles Dudley Warner and made famous by Mark Twain - was in my mind this weekend as large portions of our country trudged through a heatwave of remarkable intensity. When people weren't complaining, they were seeking reuse in cool movie theaters, ocean swims, and air conditioned homes.

When temperatures rise close to 100 day after day, you feel you can't do anything at all, much less do anything about the weather.

Fortunately, there are people who feel there is much they can do in response to the weather if not in prevention of it. In New York City, cooling centers are opened and staffed around town to make sure people without air conditioning don't get overheated, and our mayor calls upon us to let our homes be a little less cool in order to ensure there's enough power for everybody. In Maryland, emergency crews were in full force to deal with a power outage that left many residents without air conditioners, fans and refrigerators. At beaches, parks and public pools, public workers came out in the heat to create safe, welcoming places for all of us cool down.

That's right - I was happy enough to retreat into a movie theater, but I am glad that our public services - paid for by taxpayer dollars and organized by that "Big Government" conservatives complain so much about - were still showing up to make sure the heatwave didn't become a disaster.

Weeks like this remind us that we can't tackle everything on our own. Sometimes there are challenges we face and needs we meet by pooling resources and working together. Let's call it community. Let's call it looking out for our neighbors. But let's also acknowledge it's what government - at its best - is there to do.

When government works as its supposed to be working, it steps up not just to a heatwave but a fiery inferno, as we've seen in the wildfires of Colorado. You wouldn't rely on private entities to tackle a flame that doesn't respect property lines. The blaze doesn't know if you're insured or not; our firefighters shouldn't start with that question either.

That's what made the story several years ago so heart-breaking of a private firefighting agency refusing to put out a home on fire in Tennessee despite being on the scene. A twisted version of that episode was played out this past week when a lifeguard employed by a private contractor saves a swimmer - and then was promptly fired because the swimmer was outside the lifeguard's mandated area.

Whether you're letting homes burn or telling lifeguards not to save lives, you might run a good business, but I don't want you supervising the common good. That's why we need a government that opens cooling centers and staffs parks…where the real profit is social profit.

All of this, though, is still a reaction to the weather. Can we do more than complain about it? The answer is that we can - but only if we're willing to work together.

Climate change denier George Will attributed this heatwave to one word: "summer." Of course, as Think Progress notes, this heatwave has been of record intensity and duration, coming in a string of 15 years that have included the 12 hottest in recorded history. Sure, summer's hotter than winter. But it's also hotter than summer.

The climate science is there to show us there is a problem. The solutions aren't easy, but they are there as well: from reducing consumption to investing in alternative energy sources to enticing those profit-motivated entities - corporations - by creating market factors to shrink their carbon footprint. It's not lack of evidence or lack of steps that holds us back. It's lack of political will.

Either we start pulling together, pooling our resources, and asking government - the mechanism for tackling our common challenges for the aims of our shared benefit - to act on climate change. Or as the summers keep getting hotter, we'll find ourselves paying for many more blackouts and far worse… and there will only be so much lifeguards can to do help.

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Comments [1]

listener

How about introducing the term "debt deniers" since the economic decline and fall of the United States this century will surely do more harm to the planet than any wildfire.

BTW...Didn't we have firefighters and public swimming pools before the FIVE TRILLION dollars spent under Obama?

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves"
Wm. Shakespeare

Jul. 09 2012 05:04 PM

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