Solveig Torvik

First, Lisa Murkowski.

The senior senator from Alaska merits our attention on two counts: She holds the lonely distinction of being the only Republican senator to oppose Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court, and she chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Murkowski, who interrogated Kavanaugh privately, did not oppose him because she thought he was guilty of sexual assault, she explained, nor because she believed he would outlaw abortion or rule against issues important to her constituents. She called him “a good man,” well qualified as a legal scholar.

It was nothing anyone said against him. It was Kavanaugh himself who took such exquisite public pains to show the nation why he doesn’t belong on the court. His injudicious, angry, weepy, disrespectful meltdown before the Senate Judiciary Committee caused her to conclude that he showed a lack of judicial propriety.

The Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges “to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and [they] should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” she reminded. Many citizens have lost confidence in Congress and the presidency, Murkowski said, but the public still retains “a shred of hope” in the integrity of the judiciary, and that confidence must be preserved if our democracy is to survive.

But, she said, “After the hearing … it became clear to me … that the appearance of impropriety has become unavoidable… Where’s the public confidence?”

Remarkably, every one of her Republican colleagues was blind to what Murkowski so clearly saw. Have we perhaps underfunded their vision care plans?

Murkowski seems thoughtful and discerning, a woman who takes her responsibilities seriously. She seems willing, and perfectly able, to sort wheat from chaff. But she too has her blind spots: she champions fossil fuels. Understandably so; oil production is key to Alaska’s economy.

We care about Murkowski’s willingness to engage with the unpleasantries of fact-based decision-making because she’s cued up to become a pivotal player who will respond — or not — to the latest awful news from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Pray that Murkowski’s sagacity about saving the court extends to saving the planet.

We’ve sunk much faster and deeper into climate crisis than anyone realized. So, for starters, we must reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. Yes, 11 years from now.

The Paris climate agreement that President Trump wants to abandon — and which no nation has fully implemented — limits the rise in average global temperatures to 3.6 degrees F. above what it was in the pre-industrial 1850s.

At a 3.6 F. increase we’ll have reached the point of no return for many of Earth’s natural systems, scientists say.

More than halfway

However. Inspection of 6,000 studies by 91 scientists from 40 countries showed that if we continue today’s pace of loading the atmosphere with carbon, much of the bad stuff that was expected to happen at 3.6 degrees F. will happen much sooner: at 2.7 F. By 2040, two decades hence.

We’re more than halfway there. We’ve used up 1.8 degrees F. of that 2.7 F. increase.

Can we avoid this unthinkable outcome? Technologically it’s possible but politically it’s unlikely, the panel’s report concludes. It would be “a huge lift,” scientists say, because the speed with which we’d have to change is unprecedented in human history.

Astonishing hurricane damage, Western firestorms, mass tropical insect die-offs, submergence of coastlines and melting of polar ice caps have not moved us to put a fair price on the damage done by carbon emissions.

But Washington state voters can do it Nov. 6 if they approve Initiative 1631.

The Okanogan County Electric Cooperative in Winthrop says passage of the initiative would add a mere 21 cents per month to a $100 electric bill starting in 2020 and 3 cents per month thereafter. It also would mean adding 14 cents per gallon to gasoline — a modest reckoning with the truism that there’s no free lunch.

The local co-op takes no stance on the initiative but the Washington Rural Electric Cooperative Association (WRECA) to which it belongs does. WRECA opposes any state or local regulations that exceed federal standards, arguing that it would put Washingtonians at an unfair economic disadvantage compared with less climate-responsible states. On the plus side, the association’s disappointing reasoning does promote fair, mutually assured roasting.

Any fallback to this wretched scenario? Well, sort of. Overshoot. As in, we allow ourselves to overshoot the 3.6 F. target, telling ourselves that sometime later some kind of technology finally will be used to lower temperatures and — voila! — bring back tolerable climate.

Much we hold dear would by then have been irreversibly lost, of course, though the sea ice might refreeze. With a 3.6 degrees F. increase, there will be unprecedented famine, drought, mass species die-offs, melting ice, coastal inundations, hurricanes, wildfires and flooding, plus tens of millions of displaced persons — including “a disproportionally rapid evacuation” of the tropics — that will render borders “irrelevant,” with consequent social unrest.

Still, “For governments, the idea of overshooting the target but then coming back to it is attractive because then they don’t have to make such rapid changes,” said Duke University professor Drew Schindell, an author of the report.

“But it has a lot of disadvantages.”

Um … Hello?

Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.