From Nov. 6 to 17, the United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Bonn, Germany. Representatives of nearly 200 nations are present to discuss how to make progress on the ideals agreed upon during the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The United States’ participation in this conference is cursory at best. It is disgraceful and unacceptable not to hold President Donald Trump accountable for steering this nation away from remediative action and further into practices that continue to wreak havoc on the planet’s climatic health.
The Trump administration showed up to the largest global discussion about climate change mitigation and unabashedly extoled the virtues of burning coal. The only redeeming behavior on the part of the United States was the rogue delegation of lawyers and politicians who arrived to denounce Trump and his backwards views on climate change.
Not only is the situation not getting any better, but it is also actively getting worse. After a three-year plateau, world greenhouse gas emissions are once again on the rise (The New York Times, “CO2 Emissions Were Flat For Three Years. Now They’re Rising Again,” 11.13.2017). This cannot be a coincidence.
It simply is not enough anymore to reduce emissions. Humanity crossed that point of no return long ago, out of both willful ignorance and stubborn attachment to the fossil fuel industry. Emissions need to plateau and begin to decline as soon as possible, and we must ensure that they reach net zero by the end of the century if there is to be any chance of recovery from the damage already done.
To review, the nations who signed the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 agreed that the acceptable threshold for climate change was a warming of two percent above pre-industrial levels. Trump elected to remove the United States from the Paris Accord. Given the serious nature of the agreement, as well as the gravity with which the other participating nations agreed to it, the withdrawal process is not a simple or quick one. In fact, although the United States never officially ratified it, they must go through the official withdrawal process, which takes four years, meaning that it will be finalized on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after Trump’s successor—if he is not re-elected—will be announced.
In a recorded speech following the announcement of the the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord, Trump proclaimed, “I’m willing to immediately work with democratic leaders to either negotiate our way back into Paris under the terms that are fair to the United States and its workers, or to negotiate a new deal that protects our country and its taxpayers” (White House Office of the Press Secretary, “Statement by President Trump on the Paris Climate Accord,” 06.01.2017).
Trump has a horrendous track record when it comes to caring about or even acknowledging climate change. Back in 2012, he completely denied the reality of climate change and chose to blame it on a supposed business strategy designed to quell American economic power: “The concept of global warming was created by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” (Twitter, 11.06.2012). Since then he has repeatedly dismissed the concept in tweets and speeches and has filled his cabinet with climate deniers. The current Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is Scott Pruitt, a man who denies anthropogenic climate warming and a former Oklahoma Attorney General who filed 14 cases against the very agency he now heads.
Burning fossil fuels literally poisons the air we breathe, the earth on which we build our houses and schools, the water we drink and with which we wash ourselves. Although the effects are not always visible to the naked eye, in most of our experiences, they are real, long lasting and often fatal.
As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg remarked, “Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit” (The New York Times, “Protestors Jeer as Trump Team Promotes Coal at U.N. Climate Talks,” 11.13.2017). Bloomberg hit it right on the nose, whether he knows it or not. Reading that analogy made me jump, as I recalled watching a documentary a few years ago entitled, “Merchants of Doubt,” which spelled out exactly how the government uses precisely the same conniving marketing techniques to deny climate change and stall legislative action that it had used to obfuscate the detrimental effects of tobacco on human health; thus government regulation was delayed and profits were maximized, all at the expense of millions of people’s wellbeing. That film was produced in 2014, but nothing has improved since.
One could fairly easily choose to ignore the long-term damaging effect of greenhouse gas emissions and other elements of climate change and environmental degradation on human health. What cannot be refuted or dismissed is the tangible, visible impact of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, on human lives. A warming climate means more unpredictable, more violent and more frequent catastrophic weather events are bound to occur. Not a single earthquake, flood, hurricane or tsunami could ripple the surface of this overpopulated Earth without leaving some destruction in its wake. The news reports the next day are always full of injury, property damage, lost family members and pets, power outages and death.
Natural disasters on the scale of Harvey will only keep coming. A recent MIT study revealed that if no mitigatory measures are taken right now, there will be an 18 percent chance every year that Houston will experience the same devastating amount of rainfall and flooding as it did during Harvey (Science Daily, “Texas’ odds of Harvey-scale rainfall to increase by end of century,” 11.13.2017). This might sound like a small and dismissable percentage, but even a quick look at the meteorological records will show that the last time such an event occurred in the Houston area was about 2,000 years ago. The odds are increasing, and rapidly so; to jump from a one-percent to an 18-percent chance in just 100 years is a massive, terrifying development.
What kind of leader does not care for the lives of their own citizens? If any voters have been clinging to a shred of hope that Trump would follow through on his promise to care for people “much better than they’re taken care of now” (CBS News, “Trump Gets Down to Business on 60 Minutes,” 09.27.2015), his administration’s recent behavior should force them to let it go and come to grips with the reality that their president cares not for them but rather for the bottom line. He has always been and will always be a businessman, and he runs this country that way. As long as coal and oil remain profitable, he will keep investing U.S. money in the industry and continue to tank the country’s future in renewable energy as well as the world’s chance at climate change mitigation and redemption from a hellish future. The United States is such a major contributor to climate change that its lack of participation will surely inhibit or even halt the progress for which all of the other signed nations are striving.
People are perishing in natural disasters and suffering from pollution-related disease. They are losing homes and livelihoods as the government continues to profit from a dirty energy sector. The United States is made up of its people, but it is also a physical piece of land, one which is rapidly going up in flames and being swallowed by rising sea levels on either coast. Will Trump continue to scoff at the reality of climate change when he’s wading through knee-deep seawater in the halls of Mar-a-Lago?
Although this is a wonderful thing to imagine, it is an unfortunate reality that Trump doesn’t need to care about the environment for its own sake. If he and his administration care about this nation’s citizens and the very existence of this country as they claim to, they need to make a stand to combat climate change. It cannot wait.
The Miscellany News is not responsible for the views presented within the Opinions section. The weekly staff editorial is the only article which reflects the opinions of the Editorial Board.