Trump Endangers Humanity

Air pollution

President Donald Trump poses numerous threats to the safety and security of the United States and the entire planet, but no threat is more serious than his refusal to accept — and act upon — the perils of climate change.

Sure, Trump’s decision to allow his callow son-in-law to see top secret documents — in contravention to the recommendation of security experts — endangers our national security, as does his toadying to dictators such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean despot Kim Jong-un. Trump’s disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law undermines civic stability and legal norms, and poses future risks for the country. His propensity to rile up his followers at political rallies always contains a hint of violence. And, his boorishness, narcissism, and prejudices — sexism, racism, xenophobia — poison national political discourse. It may take the United States a long time to recover from his damage.

But, his denial of climate change and his encouragement of behaviors that heigten the danger is his greatest crime. And, it is a crime, because scientists who have studied the issue warn that humans do not have much time to take corrective action. The report issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) late last year says the Earth stands on the brink of an irreversible catastrophe as worldwide temperatures continue to climb. According to the IPCC, after 2030 little could be done to save the planet from the ravages of global warming. In 2018, carbon emissions in the United States rose for the first time in several years. Contributing to this increase is the Trump administration encouragement of greater coal and oil use, which is disheartening given that alternative fuels — such as wind and solar energy — keep getting cheaper and electric cars become more readily available. 

Trump has been warned. In addition to the IPCC report, the United States government issued a report in November 2018 noting the contribution of climate change to debilitating hurricanes and heat waves with a further warning that the problem will get worse. The congressionally mandated report says climate change poses a serious threat to the health and pocketbooks of Americans. The latter point must be stressed. Opponents of action sometimes claim the cost of combatting carbon emissions is too high. But, numerous reports have now made clear the opposite is true: The cost of not acting is prohibitive. U.S. intelligence officials have also cited the threat to national security posed by global warming. And, in January of this year, the Defense Department issued a dire report on the effect of climate change on U.S. security.

The president knows better than all the experts. As always, trusting his gut over the numerous reports of those who have studied the issue for years, Trump tweets in the midst of a cold snap: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?” (Do the capital letters make it colder?) The tweet only shows that Trump does not know the difference between weather — what is happening outside now — and climate — what happens over long periods of time. As for the government’s November report, Trump can only say, “I don’t believe it.” He knows the experts are wrong because of his “natural instinct” for science.

William Happer

Trump, no doubt, thinks his word is good enough, but just in case, the White House is assembling a panel of “experts” to downplay the threat climate change poses to national security. The proposed Presidential Committee on Climate Security will be led by William Happer, a National Security Council senior director who says carbon emissions are an asset rather than a pollutant. Happer, who is a professor emeritus of physics at Princeton University, said carbon dioxide “is actually a benefit to the Earth.” In 2014, Happer wandered into the fraught area of the Holocaust: “The demonization of carbon dioxide is jut like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.” Phew! As a Jew and a person who breathes, I feel relieved.

Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first EPA administrator

The 12-person panel intends to provide a “rigorous independent and adversarial scientific peer review” of academic reports that have passed peer review. One expert says, “This is the equivalent of setting up a committee on nuclear-weapons proliferation and having someone lead it who doesn’t think nuclear weapons exist.” Trump has put climate change deniers in important positions before: Scott Pruitt, his original administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, thought his mandate included dismantling laws designed to protect the environment. The new EPA head, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist who continues Pruitt’s work. 

Reports are one thing, actions another. The Trump administration has loosened a number of rules intended to combat climate change. The Bureau of Land Management has announced removal of Obama-era regulations on methane waste. The government is moving to repeal restrictions on automobile emissions. The EPA is repealing the Clean Power Plan, which placed strict rules on the burning of coal. Much of America’s coastline is now open for offshore oil drilling.The list goes on.

The reasons are probably many. Big coal and big oil were major GOP campaign donors. In this case, cause and effect may be intertwined as donors sensed a candidate hospitable to their wishes while the newly elected administration moved to satisfy the donors’ wishes. Trump ran promising to bring back coal mining. Anti-intellectualism is a factor as well: There has been a repudiation of science and expert opinion on the right for a number of years. Climate change denial fits this pattern.

Whatever the causes, the effects potentially are devastating. We only have one planet. If this one gets too hot to inhabit, humans have no place else to go. The future of humanity is at stake. We best take care of the planet we have, which Trump shows no interest in doing.

Posted March 5, 2019


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