Donald J. Trump does not listen to scientists. Scientists look at sea-level rise caused by the warming Earth and warn that Tangier Island, in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay, could be underwater in as few as 25 years. President Trump gets on the phone and, with the confidence of God himself, assures Tangier’s mayor that his island will be there for centuries more.
Trump does not listen to scientists. When the most disturbing report yet on climate change came out the other day — a warning from experts, convened by the United Nations, that we could see some of the most severe effects of global warming as soon as 2040 — the Trump administration refused to endorse its findings and reiterated its intent to pull out of the international effort to combat climate change.
The president does not listen to scientists. He listens to the owners of coal mines, their lobbyists and investors. He wants the country to produce, burn and export more coal when the new report from the U.N. makes clear that there is no way to slow the effects of climate change with coal in the mix. The new report says that, unless we basically rejigger the world’s economy, we will see — much sooner than expected — more wildfires and extreme weather, the death of coral reefs, the loss of animal species, the flooding of coastal areas, longer droughts, food shortages, more global poverty and mass migrations.
Trump does not listen to scientists. He has a base of supporters who either don’t believe in climate change or think it’s caused by something other than the 7.6 billion inhabitants of the planet. So he goes with that. He recruits deniers to his administration. He eschews leadership on mitigating this global threat. He leaves the rest of the world to worry about it while he goes golfing.
If Trump listens to anyone, you’d think it would be military leaders focused on national security. Trump claims he loves the military — he wants to have a big parade to show it off — and he’s so bullish on national security he’s willing to preside over the disgraceful separation of migrant children and their parents. You’d think Trump would be attentive to military leaders who see climate change as a threat to national security.
“‘Who’s the most interested in climate change today in the U.S.? I would say the military establishment,” says Jack Wennersten, professor emeritus of environmental history at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the author of several books about the Chesapeake region. “Whether it’s what’s going to happen to the Navy base in Norfolk because of rising tides, or what is going to happen to national security with global unrest and mass migration, they’re on top of this. They’re the one group that says: ‘Climate change is real.’ ”
Wennersten’s latest book, “Rising Tides,” co-authored with Denise Robbins, of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, looks at the developing problem of climate migrants and the potential for an unprecedented international refugee crisis. In his new book about Tangier Island, “Chesapeake Requiem,” journalist and author Earl Swift presents the hard realities of life on the island and the prospect of its 470 inhabitants becoming the region’s first climate refugees.
Scientists believe Tangier Island, in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay, could vanish within the next 25 years. Fewer than 500 people remain there, many of whom voted for Donald J. Trump. They share his rejection of climate change as the reason for their existential challenge.
One of the military leaders on this front is Stephen A. Cheney, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, class of 1971. He has been warning about a massive refugee crisis that will result if the world’s largest burners of fossil fuels — the United States is second in that category only to China — do not accelerate efforts to counter the damaging effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the Earth’s atmosphere.
Cheney, a 30-year Marine and a retired brigadier general, now leads a non-partisan think tank, the American Security Project, that sees climate change as a threat to national security.
“Climate change could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions,” Cheney told The Guardian last year. “We’re already seeing migration of large numbers of people around the world because of food scarcity, water insecurity and extreme weather, and this is set to become the new normal.”
Both U.S. and foreign military leaders have issued warnings about the developing crisis. The Department of Defense repeatedly has advised presidents of both parties about it. “Our military leaders, responsible for protecting Americans, don’t have the luxury of ignoring reality to score political points,” Cheney wrote recently. “They correctly recognize that climate change threatens vital American infrastructure, hampers our military’s readiness, accelerates instability across the globe, and puts American lives at risk.”
And then Cheney added this: “We need policies that are guided by science and that put American lives ahead of special interests.” You’d think Trump would listen to a military man on this huge, complex and existential challenge. But it’s not clear he listens to anyone — besides, maybe, his caddie.