Trump will undo cli­mate change progress

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Eu­gene Robin­son

— July and Au­gust were the hottest months for the planet since record keep­ing be­gan. Sci­en­tists are con­fi­dent that 2016 will be the hottest year. Ris­ing sea lev­els have made flood­ing com­mon­place in sev­eral ma­jor U.S. cities. And mean­while, one of our lead­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates says cli­mate change is some kind of Chi­nese hoax.

Elec­tions have con­se­quences, and this is one of the most fate­ful: Any­one who takes cli­mate change se­ri­ously had bet­ter do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to keep Don­ald Trump out of the White House.

Be­lieve it or not, there are is­sues more im­por­tant than Trump’s lat­est of­fen­sive out­burst or Hil­lary Clin­ton’s score on the lik­a­bil­ity scale. Clin­ton ac­cepts the sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on cli­mate change, which is in­creas­ingly sup­ported by what we see and feel every day. She would build upon Pres­i­dent Obama’s ef­forts to ad­dress the is­sue, which in­clude the his­toric Paris agree­ment, seen by many ex­perts as our last best hope to pre­vent catas­tro­phe.

Trump, by con­trast, is a bald-faced de­nier. “Obama’s talk­ing about all of this with the global warm­ing and ... a lot of it’s a hoax,” he said at a De­cem­ber rally in South Carolina. “It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a mon­ey­mak­ing in­dus­try, OK? It’s a hoax, a lot of it.”

He tweeted in 2012 that “the con­cept of global warm­ing was cre­ated by and for the Chi­nese in or­der to make U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing non­com­pet­i­tive.” He later said this was a joke, but dur­ing the cam­paign he has again said he does not be­lieve in cli­mate change and claimed that ac­tion to limit car­bon emis­sions “is done for the ben­e­fit of China.”

The Paris pact rep­re­sents the first time the world’s two big­gest emit­ters, China and the United States, have for­mally agreed to hold down the amount of heat-trap­ping car­bon they spew into the at­mos­phere. Trump would re­nounce the agree­ment — and also scrap Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rules lim­it­ing emis­sions from coal-fired power plants. He has promised greater fos­sil-fuel pro­duc­tion and scoffed at al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources such as wind power.

Clin­ton rec­og­nizes the po­ten­tial eco­nomic ben­e­fits of de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy to lead the world to­ward a clean-en­ergy econ­omy. Trump would rather let China, Ger­many and other na­tions com­pete for that prize.

The dif­fer­ences could not be more stark. And the ev­i­dence for cli­mate change has never been clearer.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, 15 of the warm­est 16 years on record have come since the turn of the cen­tury. By ex­am­in­ing air bub­bles pre­served for cen­turies in po­lar ice, sci­en­tists know the con­cen­tra­tion of heat-trap­ping car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere has in­creased by 40 per­cent since the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, when large-scale burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els be­gan.

Global warm­ing is af­fect­ing weather pat­terns world­wide. De­niers point out that it is not pos­si­ble to con­clu­sively blame any given storm or lo­cal­ized heat wave on cli­mate change — and that, yes, it still gets cold in the win­ter. But the phe­nom­e­non is clearly vis­i­ble in melt­ing glaciers and ice caps, the open­ing of ice-free sea lanes through the Arc­tic and, most ur­gently, sea-level rise.

The oceans are ris­ing be­cause warmer wa­ter oc­cu­pies a greater vol­ume than cooler wa­ter and be­cause so much land ice is melt­ing. Ac­cord­ing to NOAA, av­er­age sea level is ris­ing by about 1.2 inches per decade. That may not sound like much, but it has al­ready been enough to at least triple the amount of “nui­sance” flood­ing that coastal cities have to cope with when on­shore winds co­in­cide with high tide.

In Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, some low-ly­ing in­ter­sec­tions flood so of­ten that of­fi­cials have in­stalled gauges so residents can tell when the wa­ter is too deep to drive through. In Mi­ami Beach, some fre­quently flooded streets are be­ing elevated. In New York, of­fi­cials are de­bat­ing how to pre­pare for the next storm that takes the path of Hur­ri­cane Sandy, which caused an es­ti­mated $75 bil­lion in dam­age in 2012.

Last Novem­ber, in Time mag­a­zine, Clin­ton wrote that “I won’t let any­one take us back­ward, deny our econ­omy the ben­e­fits of har­ness­ing a clean en­ergy fu­ture, or force our chil­dren to en­dure the catas­tro­phe that would re­sult from unchecked cli­mate change.”

Nei­ther her poli­cies nor Trump’s will re­verse the cli­mate ef­fects we’re al­ready see­ing. But it is pos­si­ble, and nec­es­sary, to keep the im­pacts from be­com­ing com­pletely un­man­age­able. Obama leaves be­hind a frame­work for co­or­di­nated in­ter­na­tional ac­tion, more than two decades in the mak­ing, that still could fail — but that might, just might, suc­ceed. Trump boasts that he can’t wait to tear it all down. The choice is ours. Eu­gene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

WASHINGTON

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