Climate de­nial in­sult to storm vic­tims

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - Eu­gene Robin­son Colum­nist

When, if not now, is the time to talk about global warm­ing and what to do about it? The an­swer from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Repub­li­can Party, ba­si­cally, is suc­cinct in its will­ful ig­no­rance: “How about never? Is never good for you?”

No ra­tio­nal U.S ad­min­is­tra­tion would look at the dev­as­ta­tion from Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma and seek to deny climate change. At present, how­ever, there is no ra­tio­nal U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion.

We have in­stead a pres­i­dent and an En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief who refuse to ac­knowl­edge the ob­vi­ous. Thoughts and prayers are wel­come at times like th­ese, but they are in­sin­cere if not sup­ple­mented by anal­y­sis and ac­tion. Fu­ture megas­torms will likely be worse, sci­en­tists say; the ques­tion for pol­i­cy­mak­ers is to what de­gree.

Ac­cord­ing to EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt, for sci­en­tists to “use time and ef­fort to ad­dress” the cause of th­ese mas­sive, anoma­lous storms would be “very, very in­sen­si­tive to the peo­ple in Florida.” If I search the ar­chives, I can come up with a few more ir­re­spon­si­ble state­ments from Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, but not many.

Why did Har­vey dump un­prece­dented, al­most bi­b­li­cal amounts of rain­fall on Hous­ton and its en­vi­rons? Why did Irma spend longer as a Cat­e­gory 5 storm than any other hur­ri­cane on record? Why, for the first time any­one knows of, did we have two Cat­e­gory 4 storms make U.S. land­fall in the same sea­son? Why did we have two ma­jor hur­ri­canes (Irma and Jose) and a third, some­what lesser storm (Ka­tia) churn­ing at the same time?

As de­niers fre­quently point out, no in­di­vid­ual weather event can be defini­tively blamed on climate change. But the World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion re­leased a state­ment con­clud­ing “the rain­fall rates as­so­ci­ated with Har­vey were likely made more in­tense by an­thro­pogenic climate change.” And re­gard­ing Irma, the WMO cited models show­ing “hur­ri­canes in a warmer climate are likely to be­come more in­tense.”

There are es­tab­lished link­ages be­tween a storm’s sever­ity and fac­tors such as sea lev­els, ocean tem­per­a­tures and the po­si­tion of pre­vail­ing cur­rents such as the jet stream. Global warm­ing has al­tered all of those pa­ram­e­ters.

This is pre­cisely the mo­ment when sci­en­tists at the EPA, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice, NASA and other agen­cies ought to be laser-fo­cused on climate change. They should study the char­ac­ter­is­tics and im­pacts of this sea­son’s hur­ri­canes to bet­ter un­der­stand what changes global warm­ing has wrought thus far. And I’m con­fi­dent they will do so — un­less their work is ham­pered by po­lit­i­cal hacks.

Climate change never should have be­come a par­ti­san is­sue in the first place. There is no red or blue spin on the fact that hu­mans have burned enough fos­sil fu­els since the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion to in­crease the con­cen­tra­tion of car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere by 40 per­cent; or that car­bon diox­ide traps heat; or that global land and ocean tem­per­a­tures have shot up; or that Arc­tic ice is melt­ing; or that sea lev­els are ris­ing. Th­ese things are di­rectly mea­sur­able and true.

Global warm­ing cuts no slack for po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion — as Repub­li­can Govs. Greg Ab­bott of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida now should humbly ac­knowl­edge.

But be­cause the GOP cyn­i­cally po­si­tioned it­self as anti-sci­ence, times of trial can never be the right time to talk about climate change. Nor can times when there are no storms. We’re sup­posed to wait for the next Har­vey, Irma or Ka­t­rina — then zip our lips out of “re­spect” for the vic­tims.

Pres­i­dent Trump may sin­cerely dis­be­lieve the sci­en­tific con­sen­sus or he may be just pre­tend­ing — it’s hard to tell. He con­tin­ues to ped­dle his fantasy of “beau­ti­ful, clean coal” and his empty prom­ise to bring back the in­dus­try. Maybe he re­ally doesn’t grasp that coal was crushed not by gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion but by the ad­vent of cheap, plen­ti­ful nat­u­ral gas due to frack­ing.

And maybe Trump doesn’t get the fact that the rest of the world rec­og­nizes both the en­vi­ron­men­tal and the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of clean en­ergy tech­nolo­gies. It is likely, I be­lieve, that at some point there will be world­chang­ing break­throughs in so­lar power, bat­tery ca­pac­ity and nu­clear fu­sion. I hope th­ese ad­vances are made in the United States; I fear they will be made in China, Ja­pan or Ger­many.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should at least be in­sist­ing that coastal com­mu­ni­ties in Texas and Florida be re­built tak­ing climate change into ac­count. Sea level rise is an un­ques­tioned fact; the cru­elest in­sult to those now suf­fer­ing would be to pre­tend it is not.

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