As climate chan ge whirls all aroun d us, the White House has its head buried in the san d
LAST week, as Hurricane Irma approached Florida, I listened to friends’ stories of evacuation from Miami.
Lifelong Miamians whom I had met when I studied there during my college days.
When Irma finally crashed into the city, the images that emerged were striking.
Toppled cranes, homes where the roof had been ripped off, and floodwaters making some parts of the city almost unrecognisable.
Miami’s famous South Beach district was left a battered version of itself.
In the end, many Miamians I know said the damage could have been much worse. But they all agreed with their mayor, Republican Tomas Regalado. “This is the time to talk about climate change. This is the time that the president and the [Environmental Protection Agency] and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change,” he said. “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is. This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.”
The problem is no one in the Trump administration wants to talk about climate change, except to dismiss it as a myth as Trump did – he called it a Chinese hoax – on the campaign trail last year.
As president, Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate agreement and cut funding for related research. His pick for EPA chief Scott Pruitt has claimed that carbon dioxide emissions are not the main factor in global warming, despite scientific consensus to the contrary. Since Pruitt took over, the EPA has been purging its website of mentions of climate change. Obama-era regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions are being rolled back.
But despite a series of extreme weather episodes in the US this year, of which Irma is just the latest example, Pruitt bristled in a recent interview that now is not the time to talk about climate change. He argued that the question was “insensitive” in the wake of Irma and its predecessor Harvey which pounded Houston last month.
“Here’s the issue,” Pruitt told CNN. “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.”
The attitudes of Pruitt and his boss are not just disconcerting and alarming for my friends in Miami, they also of course have an impact on the rest of a world increasingly pummelled by extreme weather.
In recent weeks, 1,000 people died and millions lost homes and livelihoods in massive floods in India and Bangladesh. Communities in Sierra Leone have been ravaged by mudslides, and in China, an overflow of the mighty Yangtze wrought death and destruction.
Europe this summer witnessed its own eyebrowraising weather including hailstorms that brought hail the size of golf balls to Girona in Spain and more recently deadly flash floods in the port city of Livorno in Italy which killed at least six people.
Rising global temperatures – in the air and sea – and more intense rainfall make what were once either seasonal or freak weather patterns bigger and harsher in their impact, particularly in countries where poor infrastructure makes the population far more vulnerable.
BREAKING all kinds of unwelcome records, temperatures have been reaching levels not witnessed since meteorological records began and the amount of carbon dioxide in the air is at an all-time high.
A recent paper in the scientific journal ‘Nature’ warned time was running out to avoid what it described as ‘dangerous’ climate change. It said that the planet could emit enough carbon to render obsolete the Paris agreement target of keeping global warming as close as possible to 1.5C in anything from four to 26 years.
In the highly politicised conversation on climate change in the US, scientists chose their words carefully, arguing that such changing temperatures and precipitation levels can make ordinary or expected – and once in a decade or so – weather patterns all the more devastating.
As a group of researchers writing in ‘Scientific American’ put it: “If a baseball player on steroids is hitting 20pc more home runs, we can’t attribute a particular home run to steroids.
But we can say steroids made it 20pc more likely to have occurred…one can view increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as steroids for the storms.”
Yet still the denial continues at the highest levels of government in one of the world’s greatest powers despite hopes that Trump might revisit his decision to pull out of the Paris agreement after he met French President Emmanuel Macron in the French capital this summer.
Tom Bossert, the White House adviser on Homeland Security, joined the dismissive chorus this week. “We continue to take seriously the climate change, not the cause of it, but the things we observe,” he said.
Dangerous thinking not just for post-Irma America but also for the world.
‘This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come’
Reniah Knight, 7, of Vidor, Texas, hugs her dog, Buster, after they were reunited courtesy of the Houston SPCA. Photo: Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)