A week in review: Trump fiddles as the world burns … and drowns, dries and dies

The White House ignores a dire warning on climate change

By Terry H. Schwadron

Published October 12, 2018 2:41PM (EDT)

 (AP/Evan Vucci)
(AP/Evan Vucci)

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We’re becoming inured to name-calling and bullying threats as a substitute for governing. We’ve seen that on immigration, tariffs, foreign affairs and other topics. Sloganeering for isolationist and protectionist approaches dominate, while on purely domestic problems, the White House/Republican-majority Congress response centers on handing the problem off to the states or to the private corporate marketplace.

So, now I’m interested to see what happens when planet-wide apocalypse looms a little closer? What happens when, say, some governing needs doing rather than just words?

Up until now, shouting America First slogans has allowed Trump to duck much of the reality of climate change. Indeed, his government basically has banned the mention of the problem, dismissing environmental scientists and others from preparing for its effects.

Worry about climate change might acknowledge that the United States is in the world, and must work with other nations. It might mean some temporary lowering of corporate profits. It would be “unfair” to America to lead in this area, the president has said, explaining our withdrawal from international efforts to do what we can to lower hurtful emissions.

Now comes the new report from a United Nations panel that warns that the world might be on a path toward catastrophic climate change if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t cut dramatically by 2030. The report, released late Sunday by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says the world needs to decrease emissions by 45 by 2030 from 2010 levels to forestall a 1.5-degree Centigrade (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the atmosphere.

Basically, at that level of warming — as measured as the Earth’s average temperature compared with pre-industrial levels — up to 90% of tropical coral reefs could die, Arctic warming could cause multiple feet of sea level rise and yields of key crops would drop.

Obviously, environmental groups said, the report should jolt policymakers in the United States and around the world into action. And just as obviously, the World Coal Association denied that there is a problem.

On its own, the U.S. government is systematically rolling back regulations on even the easy stuff, like recovery of methane gas from leaks in oil and gas drilling and moving heaven and earth in an effort to revive coal mining and coal fuels. It has eliminated bars for electric utility companies, which already are moving relatively swiftly to natural gas, from using industrial coal as fuel for an ever-increasing electric fix driving this country.

Trump has produced much of his own heated rhetoric on denying the basic science involved and has pooh-poohed the effects of a 2% rise in heat.

Yet, we’re seeing more violent storms and more severe hurricanes – which the administration denies are related to climate change (and which are costing us billions in taxpayer rebuilding funds), we’re seeing more sea-level flooding in Miami and other low coastal areas; we’re seeing worldwide increases in population and the scattered scramble for clean water as famine and drought rise around the globe.

The president insists that he is a strong leader whose messages are kept simple and will change the world. Most of them, for good or bad, come down to promoting and encouraging private entrepreneurs and re-building corporate profits, using tax cuts, protectionist tariffs and, for farmers, new, bigger direct subsidies. He has put our government’s investment cards on industries in decline, like coal, rather than on renewable energy, and a yet-bigger military. In Trumpland, more corporate profits mean more jobs, more consumer confidence, more spending and higher growth. On top of this, Trump’s America wants to dump spending on health, public education, culture and poverty programs.

There is no room in that program for basic science or other research or for dealing with an international problem whose dangers now, presuming he hears about this new report, are becoming imminent.

Now that we’re through the breathlessness of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, perhaps one of those adults in the room could put a pictorial summary of what this report says is happening on the president’s desk.

The report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions — perhaps as high as $27,000 per ton by 2100 — would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. Lawmakers around the world, including in China, the European Union and California, have enacted carbon pricing programs.

Written and edited by 91 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 scientific studies, this report was done at the request of small island nations who worry about warming changes that are short of those predicted as part of the Paris agreements.

We’ll see what happens when Mar-o-Lago is under water.

Terry H. Schwadron

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