Independence Day may be the best day to ask ourselves — what is the greatest preventable threat to Americans’ life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (LLPH). The answer is simple: human-caused global warming. Certainly there are other major threats to LLPH, the gravest of which is probably terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapon, in this country.

Between Homeland Security and the Pentagon, we spend billions of dollars every month to try to prevent terrorism. Indeed, President Bush and John McCain say Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. If so, the government spends more than $20 billion a month just to fight terrorism — of which more than half is new money we weren’t spending before 9/11 (and we spend more than $50 billion a month total on military and homeland security). Those who oppose such spending are routinely labeled unpatriotic or even appeasers.

But unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions are by far the greatest preventable threat to Americans’ LLPH. Yet the government spends virtually nothing to fight global warming — certainly no significant amount of new money has been allocated for this major threat (the Clinton administration tried, but the Gingrich Congress reversed that effort, reducing or zeroing out every program aimed at climate mitigation or even adaptation).

Indeed, most conservatives, including John McCain, oppose even continuing existing incentives for carbon-mitigating strategies like solar and wind power. Conservatives in Congress seem likely to strongly oppose any major effort at a legislative solution (see “Anti-science conservatives must be stopped“).

Hmm. What should we call people who actively oppose efforts to save America from the horrors posed by the greatest threat to Americans’ LLPH? Deniers? Delayers? Worse?

The main reason I bring this up today is that conservative columnist Tony Blankley, Newt Gingrich’s former press secretary, questioned the patriotism of environmentalists on the Diane Rehm show yesterday:

I’d like to put forward a proposition for this discussion. I’ve thought about this over time. I think patriotism is a form of love — love of country. And like other loves, they can be more intense, they can be faithful, they can be intermittent, they can be weak.

By the way which means that the opposite of patriotism isn’t necessarily treason; it may simply mean indifference or divided sentiments. And I think in that way, there can be a person who is more patriotic and it doesn’t mean the person who is less patriotic is a traitor ….

I would take it [to] another area where I think patriotism is slipping … people who have views on the environment may feel that they’re more loyal to the environmental principle than they do to American advancement. We see this very specifically on the question of the Kyoto treaty where people who believe in environmentalism to that degree say we should give up our economic expansion while other parts of the world don’t have to for the general good interests of the world.

Pathetic. Why does Diane Rehm or anyone else listen to him?

Very clever of Blankely not to define “the environmental principle” — a nonexistent term (try googling it). Also very clever of him to define action on Kyoto as giving up our economic expansion — even though, of course, it meant no such thing.

Personally, I’m not an environmentalist, and I don’t believe in "environmentalism” though like everyone else, I have “views on the environment.” I do firmly believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for Americans (and everyone else). Unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions could destroy all three.

A couple of decades ago, the nations of the world decided the rich countries should take action to reduce emissions first because 1) we caused the problem and 2) we got rich doing so. President Bush’s father agreed, and the U.S. Senate signed off on that unanimously. [People seem unaware of this fact so I will blog on it later.]

The nations of the world asked the top scientists of the world to summarize the state of scientific understanding every few years and make conclusions that had to be signed off on by every country word for word. That led to Kyoto and now it has lead to very, very dire scientists who are begging us for action, which they make clear will not prevent continued economic development.

It also led to an active effort by fossil fuel companies and conservative think tanks to spread disinformation aimed at blocking action. Our top climate scientist thinks the people who fund such efforts might face trial for crimes against humanity. I seriously doubt that — mainly because the most serious consequences of this disinformation campaign will not be evident until after the funders (and the disinformers) are dead.

But anyone who understands science realizes that ignoring what the IPCC says is self-destructive for any nation — especially since the IPCC almost certainly underestimates how harsh the consequences are and how quickly they will be upon us and how even more quickly they will be all but unstoppable.

If we fail to heed the warning of our top scientists, if we fail to adopt the low-cost strategies need to avert the incalculably high-cost consequences (widespread desertification, large and rapid sea level rise, loss of the inland glaciers, extinction of most species, fatal acidification of the ocean, and on and on), nobody is going to be writing books labeling us “the greatest generation.” We will at best be “the greediest generation” and perhaps even “the first unpatriotic generation” since we were the first who would not bear any burden or pay any price to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the next generation.

But that is how future generations will label us. We haven’t failed yet. Should we question the patriotism of deniers? That is a tough call, made even tougher since they question our patriotism even as we fight to save their children and their children’s children from their own ignorance and indifference.

I suppose the answer is “no,” we shouldn’t stoop to their tactics — readers can weigh in with other views — but I will say that if we are going to save this great nation, progressives are going to have to fight back much harder against the despicable actions of the deniers who practice polluter appeasement. Whatever we are currently doing, it ain’t enough.

The time to act is yesterday.