Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment a Po­lit­i­cal Hot Potato

El Dorado News-Times - - Viewpoint - BLAIR BESS Blair Bess is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and colum­nist. He can be reached at [email protected]­gra­gated.com.

Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing. Take for ex­am­ple the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion's de­ci­sion to re­lease the lat­est Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment dur­ing last month's Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day. No shocker. The pres­i­dent and his team con­sis­tently dump un­wel­come in­for­ma­tion at times they be­lieve no one is pay­ing at­ten­tion.

Pub­li­ca­tion of the cli­mate as­sess­ment is man­dated by Congress. It has been re­leased ev­ery four years since the re­quire­ment to do so was signed into law by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1990. That's right, Bush 41, whose re­cent pass­ing we as a na­tion are still mourn­ing. Again, tim­ing is ev­ery­thing. In this in­stance, it's the per­fect time to pause and con­sider the sig­nif­i­cance of this piece of leg­is­la­tion.

The el­der Pres­i­dent Bush un­der­stood the dis­as­trous con­se­quences of cli­mate change. Ac­cord­ing to Mon­ica Med­ina, a former prin­ci­pal deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Bush 41 knew that global warm­ing posed "a risk to our health, to our pros­per­ity, and to our na­tional se­cu­rity."

Pres­i­dent Bush's com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment is in stark con­trast to opin­ions ex­pressed by the cur­rent oc­cu­pant of the Oval Of­fice. When ques­tioned about the cli­mate re­port's va­lid­ity, Pres­i­dent Trump re­acted dis­mis­sively and said, "I don't be­lieve it."

Cli­mate change deniers like Pres­i­dent Trump and many of his party's lead­er­ship in Congress choose to pooh-pooh the find­ings of the cli­mate as­sess­ment be­cause it is con­trary to "ev­i­dence" prof­fered by fos­sil fuel in­dus­try-af­fil­i­ated ex­perts and the spe­cial in­ter­ests fund­ing their ca­reers. Their views are not pred­i­cated on po­ten­tial en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards or the health con­cerns of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans. They are rooted in in­creased prof­its; the pub­lic be damned.

The con­se­quences of the ad­min­is­tra­tion's re­cent ac­tions and in­ac­tions re­lat­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion and its with­drawal from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment are a far greater mat­ter of na­tional se­cu­rity than the at­tempts of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants to "in­vade" our south­ern bor­der. They just don't play as well with the Trump base.

Since the last cli­mate as­sess­ment was re­leased four years ago, states in the west and south­west have in­creas­ingly been sub­jected to dev­as­tat­ing droughts. Dwin­dling wa­ter sup­plies have af­fected the liveli­hood of farm­ers. Un­con­trol­lable wild­fires have taken a hu­man toll, caus­ing loss of life, prop­erty, and nat­u­ral re­sources.

Coastal flood­ing and ero­sion, which is at­trib­uted to a de­crease in sea ice, have im­pacted Alaskans as well as Amer­i­cans in off­shore ter­ri­to­ries of the U.S., like Puerto Rico and the Vir­gin Is­lands. Hot­ter tem­per­a­tures are life-threat­en­ing to both el­derly and young Amer­i­cans.

Sci­en­tists who con­trib­uted to the Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment note that by 2050 those higher tem­per­a­tures and dra­matic changes in rain­fall will also re­duce agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity and im­pact the health of live­stock.

The re­port fur­ther notes that ex­treme weather events driven by global warm­ing are "vir­tu­ally cer­tain to in­creas­ingly af­fect U.S. trade and econ­omy, in­clud­ing im­port and ex­port prices and busi­nesses with over­seas op­er­a­tions and sup­ply chains." We may ex­pect shut­ter­ing of fac­to­ries and a re­sul­tant hard­ship for Amer­i­can work­ers at home.

It's quite pos­si­ble that cli­mate change will even­tu­ally have a greater nega­tive im­pact on busi­nesses large and small than the ad­min­is­tra­tion's ill-con­ceived tar­iffs on im­ports, and its "Amer­ica First" trade poli­cies.

Dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion's first two years, the whole­sale elim­i­na­tion of reg­u­la­tions en­acted by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and other gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions have re­moved safe­guards meant to keep Amer­i­cans healthy and se­cure. The eco­nomic health of Amer­i­can work­ers - not their em­ploy­ers - is of­ten cited as the mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor be­hind these changes.

To vary­ing de­grees, all ad­min­is­tra­tions pan­der to those whose fi­nan­cial sup­port helped put and keep them in of­fice. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is no dif­fer­ent. Yet fixes that fa­vor short-term cor­po­rate in­ter­ests over those of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans who voted for the pres­i­dent will in­evitably yield eco­nomic con­se­quences that af­fect the bottomline and well-be­ing of us all.

Global warm­ing and the en­vi­ron­ment need not be a po­lit­i­cal hot potato. As the late Pres­i­dent Bush told an au­di­ence thirty years ago, "Those who think we're pow­er­less to do any­thing about the green­house ef­fect are for­get­ting about the White House ef­fect." In the wake of the lat­est Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment, it is in every­one's in­ter­ests for the cur­rent oc­cu­pant of that house to re­take his tem­per­a­ture and re­con­sider his po­si­tion on cli­mate change.

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