Next week, we begin a new decade knowing that the clock is ticking. The overwhelming scientific consensus is informing humanity with increasing urgency that climate change threatens to create a cascade of increasingly dire effects, many of which are expected to manifest themselves within the next ten years.
As we’ve already learned, climate change is not just a future threat. It is already wreaking havoc around the planet, from the melting Arctic to the deserts of Australia and the Middle East, that have recently experienced temperatures not previously thought possible on Planet Earth. The changes brought on by climate change are altering ecosystems in profound ways, sparking what many biologists are calling a new mass extinction event. Extreme events, from drought and wildfires, to unprecedented flooding, are already having major impact on economies and generating the beginning of what is certain to be essentially permanent and increasingly dire flows of human refugees.
In the face of what is truly an existential crisis for all life on this planet, we have a President of the United States who has not only turned a blind eye to the crisis, but who takes willful steps to make it worse. Even as dozens of U.S. states are working to meet commitments made under the Paris Climate Accord, the Trump administration is actively fighting those efforts in court. While the rest of the world is rightfully focused on reducing emissions of heat-trapping carbon, President Trump is using the power of his office to actively increase carbon emissions to both worsen and hasten the effects of climate change.
Such policies border on insanity, and not only because they threaten the future of life on Earth, including humanity. Such policies also harm America’s economic future.
The world is going through a transformation that longtime energy analysts like Jeremy Rifkin call the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Renewable forms of energy, like solar and wind, have fallen dramatically in price and are now the cheapest form of new energy production capacity available. While the Trump administration may tout a return to dirty coal-burning power plants, utilities are going in the opposite direction, both because of consumer demand and because those who make such decisions for power companies live on this planet, too, and are perfectly aware of the unprecedented risks associated with the status quo.
President Trump, in his efforts to turn back the clock to an America where the air was unhealthy to breathe and rivers caught fire, demonstrates his lack of understanding of what is happening elsewhere in the world, and how his backward policies will leave America far behind the curve in terms of innovating, producing, and implementing a new energy future. Forget about a return to greatness. Donald Trump’s policies, if continued much longer, will make America Third World again.
Unfortunately, bad policy in the world’s most critical nation inevitably brings ripple effects. The collapse earlier this month of the U.N. Climate Summit in Madrid was, in part, the result of a lack of strong leadership. The United States, under President Obama, provided that leadership in 2015 and it resulted in the signing of the Paris Climate Accord, upon which the Madrid summit was supposed to build.
Instead, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Paris Accord and sent virtually no one to the Madrid conference, a decision that undoubtedly contributed to the breakdown in the talks. Rather than leading the world toward a sustainable future, President Trump spent this critical time as he so often does, issuing childish tweets directed at his perceived political enemies. America has never been so lacking in leadership at so critical a time in human history.
Fifty and one hundred years from now, our children and grandchildren will look back on this period of human history with justifiable anger that we understood and recognized the problems posed by climate change, and yet, the leaders we needed to address the threat simply failed to act. As a society, we should be ashamed.