The Back Page

Vol. 27 No. 1

Mark Ryan is Assistant Regional Counsel in the EPA Region 10 Boise Office and a member of the editorial board of Natural Resources & Environment. The views expressed here are Mr. Ryan’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the EPA.

Who would have guessed? John Roberts joined with the liberal wing of the Supreme Court to provide the fifth vote for upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (PPACA). Although the Supreme Court issues unanimous decisions in a large percentage of its cases, five to four votes are the norm on most of the weighty cases of the day. But the PPACA case may signal a change. The ideologically opposite ends of the present Court, until the PPACA case, could not come together to forge a meaningful compromise on important issues.

Which brings me to this summer. It’s a hot one. Really, really hot. According to Dr. Kenneth Trenberth of the U.S. Climate Analysis Section for Atmospheric Research, the ratio of record hot to record cold days in North America prior to the 1970’s was 1:1. In other words, there were as many record highs as there were record lows. By the early 2000’s that ratio had slipped to 2:1—two record highs for every record low. In 2012, the ratio so far is 10:1. Crops are failing throughout the Midwest due to heat and drought. As I write this in mid-July, much of the western United States is on fire. Where I live in Southern Idaho, the dams are run using historical snow melt records to dictate when they release water, but those records are becoming useless. With the spring snow melting much earlier and faster than ever before, the dam operators are running the dams more by the seat of their pants, which resulted in flooding this year. Bark beetles are thriving because unusually warm winters fail to kill the larvae, and the beetles are killing huge swaths of forests in the West. According to NASA, in the last 400,000 years until 1950, CO2 concentrations never exceeded 300 ppm. Today the number is 380 ppm and climbing. And the list goes on.

Meanwhile, the naysayers argue that human-caused global warming is unproven, if not an outright hoax. The words “global warming” and “climate change” are being expunged from public laws in North Carolina and Virginia and from bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Greenhouse gas cap-and-trade legislation, which was originally proposed by the Bush Administration, is DOA in Congress. Many people, including most climate scientists, think there is irrefutable evidence of anthropogenic climate change, yet the naysayers just don’t believe it. Given the lack of hard evidence, they argue, new economy-killing greenhouse gas regulations cannot be justified.

With the two sides so far apart, it’s hard to not conjure up Nero and his fiddle. But doing nothing is not an option. The downside of getting it wrong is just too great. We need to work this out. If Roberts can forge a deal with his ideological opponents, our leaders in Congress can do the same.


  • About NR&E

  • Additional Resources

  • Contact Us

Stay Connected


Book: International Environmental Law: The Practitioner's Guide to the Laws of the Planet