Man-made Cliffs

Ready or not, Americans are on the precipice of a fiscal cliff and climate change that could make Superstorm Sandy and searing summer temperatures the new norm.While politicians parried on Capitol Hill over the fiscal cliff, the World Bank issued a stunning report indicating climate change could raise the earth's temperature by 7.2 degrees as early as 2060.

Coverage of the paralyzed negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff saturated traditional and online news media. The United Nations climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar, drew hardly a mention.

Plunging over the fiscal cliff will have serious consequences, but not as devastating as melting polar caps, searing droughts, warming oceans and savage storms.

Perhaps not so paradoxically, both cliffs hold the most peril for the poor and those least able to adapt. Failure in DC to reach a budget deal will send tax rates, including payroll tax rates, up and spending on such programs as food stamps down. Failure to address climate change will lead to increased rainfall in some places and less in others, including already parched parts of the Middle East and Africa.

As the budget situation/climate change worsens, it will impact people's current livelihoods and their future well-being. Unemployment could start to rise, along with ocean water levels and temperatures, generating deep social unrest.

Increasingly, both cliffs and their craggy rock beaches below are coming into clearer view for a wider group of people. And so are questions about why policymakers and other leaders aren't doing more about preventing both pending disasters.

The World Bank report urged countries to ensure national policies are "climate resilient." A good start, the Bank says, is "collecting climate data and strengthening basic services." Redoubling efforts to educate more people, improving health conditions and upgrading sanitation will take on added importance, the Bank adds, as a changing world demands rapid adaptation by people — not just to succeed, but to survive.

Investments will be needed in seawalls, drainage fields and reinforcing critical service centers against more aggravated and frequent weather conditions as severe storms and scorching temperatures become the new norm for much of the world.

The stakes and consequences for failing to respond to climate change challenges make political foot-dragging, media inattention and industry-sponsored nay-saying seem more and more like dereliction of duty.

Plunging over the fiscal cliff poses dire consequences. Ignoring the ticking clock of climate change, which has contributed to superstorms like Sandy and heat waves that killed 55,000 this summer in western Russia, could prove fatal.

A severe Russian heat wave last summer led to uncontrollable forest fires and the deaths of as many as 55,000 people.