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Pompeo discovers melting icecaps, but misses their cause

On the same day that the United Nations reported that as many as 1 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Rovaniemi, Finland, warning about the dangers of melting icecaps. Could it really be that the Trump administration was finally willing to acknowledge climate change? Might the White House have caught up with its own scientific experts and even Pentagon leaders who have raised the alarm about how excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, chiefly as a result of burning fossil fuels, represent a dire threat to the U.S. and the rest of the planet? Was this the moment of epiphany?

Nah.

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Mr. Pompeo kept his blinders on. Oh, he noticed that there’s a lot less ice in the Arctic Ocean these days, but he demonstrated no interest (or even curiosity) about why. Instead, he was focused entirely on how China and Russia may be taking advantage of that changing circumstance, whether through a military buildup or through competition for resources — including oil and gas reserves — that were previously unavailable. In other words, the Trump administration is already eyeing the possibility of extracting more fossil fuels from an area that is exploitable only because too many fossil fuels have been exploited already.

The irony, like the science of climate change, was lost on the former Kansas congressman who, as recently as March during an appearance on Fox News, happily disclosed that he couldn’t rank climate change as a top five threat to the U.S. Instead, all that melting ice raised the possibility that the Trump administration may pursue a strategy of not protecting the Arctic, not trying to stop or reverse the damage being wrought, or even necessarily stopping other countries from drilling in the Arctic, but building up its own military presence and making sure U.S. companies are getting a piece of the resource exploitation action, too.

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"The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance," said Mr. Pompeo who envisions the ocean becoming a “21st century Suez and Panama Canals” between Asia and the west. "It houses 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore."

People are putting nature in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming over 1 million species of plants and animals.

Clearly, the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services haven’t been on the State Department must-read list. If senior officials had bothered to crack that tome, or at least digest the executive summary, they would have found a more nightmarish threat than the Chinese influencing shipping channels. The loss of biodiversity, unparalleled in history, poses serious risks to economies, food and drinking water security, health and quality of life around the world. Climate change is a major cause of that loss of species as it unleashes crop-devouring pests while removing their natural adversaries like bats and wreaks havoc on seafood supplies by warming and acidifying oceans.

What the report makes especially obvious is that the loss of biodiversity has terrible consequences for human beings. And to stand by and simply accept that the record amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (April’s average was 413.52 parts per million, a level last present on the planet during the Pliocene Epoch millions of years ago) is to fiddle while Rome burns. Focusing only on how best to take advantage of that circumstance is more akin to selling hot dogs and skewers while Rome burns than playing tunes on the violin.

President Donald Trump and his minions like to mock scientists who express concern about climate change, or perhaps question their motives as if they were all getting rich with their dire predictions (which is a bit like accusing cancer researchers of searching for cures only to finance second homes). But at some point when administration officials are forced to acknowledge the warming planet, they are going to have to come up with a better explanation for what’s going on than a Chinese “hoax.” Mr. Pompeo can fool himself into believing his approach is pragmatic because a Chinese buildup in the South China Sea could be duplicated in the Arctic, but what about the underlying cause of all that melting that makes it possible? On Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo left the Arctic Council meeting in Finland without signing the eight-nation council’s two-year agreement over how best to manage resources there. His sticking point? How the document described climate change. A truly pragmatic leader would not only recognize the reality of climate change, he’d be willing to take action to address it, not merely accept or exploit it.

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