September 16, 2009

Mark Kirk: Solving Global Warming a "Narrow Interest"

Last Saturday at an event in DuPage County, Mark Kirk discounted what had looked like a courageous vote in favor of the American Clean Energy Security Act in June.

On Saturday, here's how Kirk described his vote on preventing climate change:

"I voted for it because of the narrow interests of my Congressional district. But, as your representative, representing the entire state of Illinois, I will vote no".

Climate change is a "narrow interest"?

It is hard to imagine anything that this, or any, Congress could vote on that is a broader interest than climate change. Scientists agree that urgent action is needed by the world, and the U.S. in particular, if we have any chance to avert catastrophic change that threatens life as we know it.

When he says that climate change is a "narrow interest" of north suburban voters, does he mean it won't affect other parts of Illinois? The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report that found these risks to Illinois agriculture:

The Illinois agriculture sector would suffer from substantially more heat stress, which would impair livestock productivity. Illinois hog producers -- whose hog sales reached $800 million in 2007 -- already lose $20.5 million annually due to heat-stressed animals. By the end of the century, nearly permanent heat stress would plague hogs, dairy cattle and other livestock unless they are kept cool, for example, in costly air-conditioned barns.

Crop yields would also suffer. Illinois has 67 percent of its land in crop production and ranks second among the states in crop value. A 1988 heat wave that cost the United States $40 bil lion -- mostly due to crop losses -- reduced Illinois corn and soybean yields by more than 75 percent of their average annual yields from 1978 to 1997. By mid-century under the high er-emissions scenario, all Illinois summers are projected to be hotter than 1988.

Warmer winters and a growing season as much as six weeks longer than during the baseline decades would enable pests, such as the corn earworm, to expand their range. Between 1961 and 1990, conditions favorable to the corn earworm occurred once every 15 years in the middle of the state and once every three years in southern Illinois. With unchecked global warming, by the end of this century corn earworm infestations could happen nearly half the summers in the state's midsection and nearly every summer in the south.

Crop production also would be threatened by changing rain patterns, ranging from wetter springs -- which delay planting and increase flood risk -- to nearly 15 percent less rain during increasingly hot summers. Crop-damaging three- and seven-day heat waves would occur at least every other summer toward the end of the century. During the report's baseline period, three-day heat waves occurred only about once a decade, and seven-day heat waves occurred once out of 30 summers.
So global warming threatens our entire state, not just the 10th Congressional district. What about public support? I have not seen district-specific polling, but this recent national poll finds the American people in favor of the legislation Kirk has apparently disowned by about a 2:1 margin.

To be sure, there are powerful narrow interests working hard against these changes. Dirty coal is pulling out all the stops to keep their loophole, exempting CO2 pollution, wide open. Big oil is trying hard to keep us all on their hook, including scaring farmers, most of whom depend on fertilizers and fuels made out of their oil.

Kirk's vote for a clean energy future, and a chance to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, was the right choice for the broader interest. Now that he has told us all he wouldn't do it again, lots of Illinois voters want to know -

Mark Kirk - is my interest in a cleaner, better energy future a "narrow interest", or the public interest?

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