As cli­mate chan ge whirls all aroun d us, the White House has its head buried in the san d

Irish Independent - - WORLD NEWS - Mary Fitzger­ald

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)

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