The federal government released a devastating report last week documenting the immense economic and human cost that the U.S. will incur as a result of climate change. It warns that the damage to roads alone will add up to $21 billion by the end of the century. In certain parts of the Midwest, farms will produce 75 percent less corn than today, while ocean acidification could result in $230 billion in financial losses. More people will die from extreme temperatures and mosquito-borne diseases. Wildfire seasons will become more frequent and more destructive. Tens of millions of people living near rising oceans will be forced to resettle. The findings put the country on notice, once again, that doing nothing is a recipe for disaster.
Yet odds are that the federal government will, in fact, do nothing. It’s tempting to blame inaction on current political conditions, like having a climate change denier in the White House or intense partisan polarization in Washington. But the unfortunate reality is that American politicians have never been good at dealing with big, long-term problems. Lawmakers have tended to act only when they had no other choice.
It took a brutal Civil War to end slavery. Bankers avoided regulation until the financial system totally collapsed in the early 1930s. Americans saw southern police brutality on their television sets before civil-rights legislation could get through Congress. Widespread dissatisfaction with the health-care system has resulted in only a patchwork solution (the Affordable Care Act). Mass shootings have still not yielded effective gun control. [Continue reading…]