Our view: Trump administration’s failure to accept climate change reality locks U.S. into an economically ruinous course
Less than 48 hours before his administration released its latest findings on climate change — a report that only amplifies the growing seriousness of the problem — President Donald Trump was on Twitter mocking not only the premise of mankind’s responsibility for global warming but that the planet’s climate was changing at all: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS - Whatever happened to Global Warming?”
And in case anyone thought the president might have meant that ironically in, say, the way people in a cold snap yearn for warmer climes, he was back on Twitter the next day to observe how New York was having a record cold Thanksgiving (while he spent the holiday in South Florida), and the White House released a statement saying the latest federal climate assessment (mandated by law every four years since George W. Bush served as president) was “largely based on the most extreme scenario” of global warming. By Monday, he was even more direct telling reporters that he had read “some” of the report and “I don’t believe it.”
President Trump’s unwillingness to face the facts of climate change is hardly unexpected given past claims of global warming as a Chinese hoax, but it doesn’t make his views any less foolhardy. Americans need to take a few minutes to read the voluminous climate findings released last Friday, or at least a summary of them, to better understand the massive scope of the threat. And if rising seas, loss of farm land or safe drinking water, worsening weather, floods, droughts, disease and other impacts are not frightening enough, they might focus on just one consequence: the hundreds of billions of dollars scientists foresee climate change costing the U.S. economy.
Think about that for a second. Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to “believe” in climate science appears to hinge not on any scientific uncertainty — as much as there are always naysayers willing to carry water (or fossil fuels) for the worst polluters — but on the impact on jobs and prosperity including his favored industries like coal mining. But that premise assumes that Americans are being called to make an economic sacrifice to reduce carbon emissions. As the report makes clear, the opposite is true: If the nation does nothing, it is all who must sacrifice as a global disaster unfolds.
How much sacrifice? The report estimates 10 percent of the gross domestic product by the end of the century. That’s not some minor inconvenience like driving more fuel efficient vehicles or imposing a revenue-neutral carbon tax or encouraging renewable energy, that’s deep recession territory. And those who believe it’s overstated? The report notes that climate change has already contributed in the neighborhood of $400 million in economic losses from major storms in the U.S. since 2015.
What’s really foolish is the reality that the longer Americans wait to adopt some rational approach to lessening the climate threat, the greater the price tag and less impact potential fixes carry. As was noted when Mr. Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accords last year, a forward-looking climate change policy isn’t a zero-sum game. For any jobs lost as the nation (and world) moves away from burning fossil fuels, there are just as many, if not more, jobs to be gained in energy conservation and efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal and related industries in the long-term.
The failure of the U.S. to lead on this issue could prove to have the most lasting impact of any Trump policy. Regulatory changes can be reversed. Anti-immigrant policies abandoned. Even judicial nominees don’t stay on the bench forever. But once the Atlantic Ocean takes up residence in Central Maryland, the corrective options are few. And make no mistake, that’s the kind of concrete effect climate change is going to have. Even now, Ocean City and other coastal communities appear to have challenges ahead from hurricanes and similar events even if the world makes progress on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Some conservatives like to mock such dire warnings, but then Nero probably found that fire in Rome pretty amusing in its early stages, too. The truth is that anyone who believes in “conserving” anything would be taking the safe bet when presented with so much scientific evidence — stop making matters worse. As the old saying goes, the first step to extricating yourself from the hole you just dug is to stop digging. If Mr. Trump is unwilling to face reality, Congress will have to reverse course for him. Washington must stop sabotaging and start strengthening U.S. policy toward climate change.