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A new hope in Paris

No matter the outcome of the international climate talks in Paris, Monday's gathering of world leaders is a triumph in itself, a repudiation of ISIS and the terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in the City of Light. The urgent need for a coordinated global response to the threat posed by climate change is too great to be derailed, particularly by religious zealotry and ignorance.

Just this past week, the World Meteorological Organization warned that not only will 2015 go down as the hottest year on record, with 2016 expected to be worse, but that, if left unchecked, world temperatures could rise 6 degrees Celsius or more. That would be an unmitigated disaster and lead to far more political upheaval and destruction than all the terrorist organizations on the planet could possibly produce.

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Yet even as the temperatures rise (a condition aggravated in recent years by an El Nino weather pattern), there remains a possibility that some of the worst effects from rising sea levels to disastrous storms and droughts could be lessened if nations agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by substantial amounts and do so quickly enough. That's the point of the United Nations-sponsored talks — not simply to meet no matter how courageously under the circumstances but to plot a course toward a 2-degree Celsius cap on the temperature rise.

The simple answer to this is for all countries to sharply reduce consumption of fossil fuels beyond what many have already pledged, but as difficult a challenge as that poses for the United States and other industrialized countries, it's an even bigger hurdle for poorer nations that simply lack the resources to invest in alternative sources of energy. That's why the richer countries have already promised to provide financial assistance to the others. But how that money will be used and how long that assistance will be offered could prove a sticking point.

In Washington, some Republicans are threatening to block the $3 billion U.S. contribution to the Green Climate Fund, perhaps using the leverage of the pending federal omnibus spending bill that must be approved by Congress no later than Dec. 11 or risk shutting down the government. The effort is unlikely to succeed given the opposition of President Barack Obama and Democrats on the Hill to budget "riders" of any kind. But the measure might cast some doubt over the U.S. commitment to the fund and discourage leaders in developing nations from making concessions.

Of course, these shenanigans pale in comparison to the misconduct of front-running Republican presidential candidates who not only deny man-made climate change but deny the earth is warming no matter what the thermometers say. Ben Carson and Donald Trump are basically flat-earthers in this regard (as are Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee), but none of the others are offering specific proposals to reduce emissions either — in sharp contrast to their Democratic counterparts.

Here's a modest suggestion: This is a week when the climate change deniers should at least shut their traps and reduce their own hot air footprints. It's one thing to spew this claptrap to the gullible on the campaign trail during primary season, it's quite another to undermine international negotiations in which the U.S. has a considerable stake. Whatever the benefits of a few more tea party votes, it's not worth the price of a disappearing coastline or droughts, heat waves and lost farm production and freshwater supplies.

Instead, this should be a week for the public to become better educated on climate change and the impact of rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. NASA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have a wealth of information available on their web sites (http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/ and http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/) as does the National Climate Assessment (http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/). Tuning in to the Paris talks would not be a bad idea either (http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/).

May science and rational thinking overcome those who would refuse to accept the reality of a dangerously warming planet. As awful as the terrorism of Paris may have been, failed climate change talks would be the bigger calamity simply because the scale of destruction posed by unbridled greenhouse gas emissions is so immense. According to the World Health Organization, global warming will produce a quarter-million more deaths per year by 2030 from malnutrition, disease and heat-related injury, the equivalent of more than 1,900 Paris attacks. It's time to ratchet up our climate goals to head off the worst effects of climate change, not to give in to skeptics or terrorists.

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