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Atlanta, Georgia, and the South

Macon's CBS affiliate, WMAZ, recently finished off an interview with Senator David Perdue by asking a series of questions about climate change. Perdue gave boilerplate evasions to the question of whether human activity is responsible for changing environmental patterns:

WMAZ: Do you believe what many scientists say, that climate change is, if not entirely man-created, then [that] man-made fossil fuels are contributing to it?

Perdue: Nobody really knows that. There are scientists on both sides of that accord. I'm an engineer, and I've looked at the history of the cycles of temperature changing and so forth. We are certainly in one of those cycles right now. But I haven't seen hard evidence on that one side or the other.

A couple of facts are worth pointing out here:

  1. Perdue does have a degree in industrial engineering, for what that's worth. Granted, there's no record of his ever having worked as an engineer, much less in a field related to climate science, but that doesn't stop him from claiming to be an engineer whenever the subject of climate change comes up.

  2. The vast majority of working climate scientists — 97%, if you want to put a number to it — agree that human activity is a cause of climate change. Even the extent to which scientists have reached a consensus has been studied and has undergone peer review. (Environmental Research Letters)

That needs to be said every time a politician sings "two sides to every story" in response to questions about climate science.

The answer that really drew my attention, though, comes a bit earlier in the interview. In the course of making the argument that the U.S. is being asked to bear a disproportionate portion of the burden for addressing climate change, Perdue says:

Whether man has an impact on global warming or not, you have to look at those statistics, and say okay, if it does then where is the issue? The issue is in the developing world.

He's wrong about that. So are the roughly 41% of Georgians who don't believe climate change will affect them personally. It may be that the polluters are more egregious in developing nations — though, with the Trump administration steadily rolling back environmental regulations, that's subject to change. It is certainly true that developing nations are poised to suffer more from the impacts of climate change. But the issue is by no means isolated to those regions.

A 2016 government report [PDF] predicts that in the coming decades Georgia will see stronger and more frequent hurricanes, flooding, drought, wildfires, declining forests, potential crop failures and up to five times as many days annually with 95° or higher temperatures. A joint study between the Georgia Conservancy and Georgia Tech predicts that counties in coastal Georgia could lose as much as 30% of their available land area to rising sea levels. The worst of those effects will likely be concentrated in southern and coastal counties, though the diminishing availability of freshwater will hurt cities and farming everywhere in the state.

In short, the landscape that we take for granted is poised to change radically. At every level of government — federal, state and local — there are policies and actions that could mitigate the risks and prepare for the impacts, but they must be implemented wisely and expediently. Lawmakers and public officials who barely recognize the threat, and refuse to acknowledge its causes, cannot be relied upon to the adopt the policies we'll need to protect Georgia communities.