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Walking away from the climate crisis: Not OK, boomer | COMMENTARY

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and wildfires affecting western states, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and wildfires affecting western states, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Among the many things I have tried but failed to understand about fellow baby boomers who voted for Donald Trump: why they support a president who walked away from leadership on climate change.

The big clock keeps ticking, and there’s evidence all around us that the future of human life on the planet is in jeopardy, yet tens of millions of our fellow Americans want a president who would rather go golfing than devote any time to climate change.

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I wonder about those men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s: Don’t they have children and grandchildren? Aren’t they concerned about the world we’re leaving them? Aren’t they troubled by the prospect of their grandsons and granddaughters facing environmental conditions even more extreme than those we see now?

Haven’t most boomers reached the ages when men and women become reflective about their lives?

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I include Trump in that. He was born in 1946, the first year of the baby boom. He has five children — his youngest, Barron, is only 14 — and 10 grandchildren. I realize Trump is concerned, most of all, with Trump. But even a narcissist must have moments of reflection that spawn thoughts about life and legacy. Even the most self centered “petromasculine” guy must hope that his descendants live on and thrive. But to do that, they must inherit a world that is livable, and tomorrow’s world is not going to be livable unless we follow the advice of the world’s best climate scientists.

Trump, who appears to be incapable of the introspection I just described — and immune to expert opinion — thinks scientists and activists who warn of the Earth’s changing atmosphere are “prophets of doom.” He often dismisses climate concerns with jokes and derision.

But, worse than his rhetoric, has been his actions in support of fossil fuel development and the curtailing of environmental regulations that were established to slow the effects of climate change. Worst of all, Trump pulled the United States out of a multi-nation agreement to work toward saving our planet from catastrophe.

On Wednesday, while the nation’s attention was on the presidential election, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was formally completed. The United States, the world’s second-leading producer (behind China) of greenhouse gases, is the only nation to pull out of it, and we pulled out at a critical time for the planet.

A year ago this week, more than 11,000 scientists in 153 countries issued a stark warning: The Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency” unless humans change our ways in a big way. “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament,” the scientists said.

The report they issued called on the most industrialized and populated countries to ramp up efforts to develop renewable energy and stop extracting fossil fuels, primarily oil and coal, from the ground.

A year earlier, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the planet was running out of time to keep the increase in average temperatures worldwide from surpassing 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Without reaching that goal through sweeping and unprecedented changes in how we live, travel and conduct commerce, we face rising seas and more devastating storms, droughts and floods.

“I’m convinced that four more years of the U.S. staying out of the Paris Agreement would give the world no chance to do that,” says Don Boesch, former president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and one of our leading climate experts. “There is no drop-dead point with climate change, but the longer we wait to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions, the worse it will be …”

Should Joe Biden win the presidency, he said he would have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Agreement by February. Even so, says Boesch, the world will still struggle to reduce emissions sufficiently to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. “The science says that we have only 30 to 40 years for the world to reach net-zero,” he says.

Biden made a big commitment in his campaign to take steps to reduce the nation’s emissions. He wants the U.S. to reach net-zero by 2050, with no carbon pollution from energy producers by 2035.

“But,” says Boesch, looking at the lay of the land after Tuesday’s election, “that will be hindered if a Republican-controlled Senate obstructs the needed legislation. There are always executive orders, but the effects of those are limited.”

Still, Boesch notes, there’s a possibility that, with a change in the presidency, some Republican senators will feel “unshackled from Trump” and do the right thing. That means acknowledging the climate emergency and, if you can imagine this, supporting a Democratic president’s plan to deal with it.

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You would think, as old as many of those senators are, they’d be concerned with life and legacy — the world their children and grandchildren will inherit — and do the right thing, no matter who the president is.

-o-

Correction: In Thursday’s column about Maryland’s 7th congressional district, I noted that Richmond Davis, the Republican candidate in the 2018 election, had spent about $3.20 in campaign funds for each vote he received. In fact, he spent about 31 cents per vote. I regret making that mathematical error, and thank reader Mac MacLure for pointing it out.

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