What should the punishment be for a President of the United States who has enormous resources at his disposal, but refuses to help the American people avoid a deadly and costly future? What can we do about a president who lacks the morality to protect the people he was elected to serve?
In the last 60 days, two groups of scientists have issued ominous warnings that climate change is underway worldwide and in the United States, and unless we do something about it, it will severely damage our economy, health and quality of life for countless generations to come.
The first warning came from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which consists of scientists from around the world who have modeled and monitored climate change since the panel was formed in 1988.
The second warning came last Friday in a detailed report from the U.S. government’s own scientists. While the IPCC described the worldwide consequences of climate change, the second report – called the National Climate Assessment (NCA) — focused on climate change in the United States and its territories. The NCA concluded that without immediate action, weather in America will also become a great deal more violent, costly, deadly and irreversible. So far, climate change has doubled the size of wildfires in the southwest, causing fatalities and lingering consequences for public health, the NCA reported. It warned that sea-level rise, which is already affecting many cities on the Atlantic coast, will force tens of millions of people to move in the years ahead. Future changes in the weather will kill thousands of Americans and cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars every year, the report said.
Trump has shrugged off both warnings, just as he has shrugged off science in general and the demonstrable fact that climate change and its damages are real.
One of the most startling warnings in the new IPCC report is that the world must keep the Earth’s average temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times, and we have only 12 years to make the dramatic changes needed to stay below that limit. At present, the world is on course for three degrees of warming.
Trump is using his presidency to move the world more rapidly down the three-degree path. The United States already is second only to China in the amount of climate-changing pollution it emits. Trump’s administration is weakening the nation’s first regulation to limit that pollution from power plants. It is rolling back historic improvements in the energy efficiency of cars and trucks, now the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions. Trump intends to make America the only nation in the world that is not committed to reducing the pollution responsible for climate change. In fact, he wants the United States to be the world’s principal fossil energy producer and exporter while the rest of the world is trying to leave fossil fuels behind. Some might argue that the U.S. has a sovereign right to do these things, except that every nation’s carbon pollution has global consequences.
On another front, Trump’s Justice Department is trying to scuttle what may be the best chance of forcing the administration to do something about climate change. In a three-year-old lawsuit, 21 young Americans argue that by subsidizing fossil fuels, permitting oil and gas production on public lands and doing other things that result in carbon pollution, the federal government is violating their constitutional right to a livable future. The case was scheduled to go to trial a month ago but the Justice Department got it delayed. It now is using a variety of legal tricks to try to get the lawsuit thrown out.
Democrats who will take control of the House of Representatives in January say they intend to address climate change, but they can do nothing substantial while Trump is in office. And while we might hope that a climate-action hero will be elected to the presidency in 2020, we can’t waste another two years of inaction in the 12-year window scientists say is left to prevent a future that we and generations to follow will deeply regret. It is difficult to know what to do. What we do know, however, is that no president should have the power to force us into a dangerous and degraded future.