As if on cue, when the headlines shifted from the Kavanaugh controversy to the devastation on Florida’s panhandle caused by Hurricane Michael, The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fifth Assessment Report. The findings are categorical in their conclusion: climate change is real and human activities are the main cause. Further, the report predicted stark ramifications if we fail to mend our profligate ways.
Carolyn Kormann, writing in The New Yorker, says “The summary tells a nightmarish tale—one much worse than any of those in the I.P.C.C.’s previous reports…Ten million more people would be exposed to permanent inundation, and several hundred million more to climate-related risks and [be] susceptible to poverty. Malaria and dengue fever will be more widespread, and crops like maize, rice, and wheat will have smaller and smaller yields—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Security and economic growth will be that much more imperiled.”
The UN Report on Climate Change states that “there is alarming evidence that important tipping points, leading to irreversible changes in major ecosystems and the planetary climate system, may already have been reached or passed. Ecosystems as diverse as the Amazon rain forest and the Arctic tundra, may be approaching thresholds of dramatic change through warming and drying. Mountain glaciers are in alarming retreat and the downstream effects of reduced water supply in the driest months will have repercussions that transcend generations.
“From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly” than previously imagined. [I invite you to re-read these predictions. They are more than alarming; when you think about the human suffering they imply, they are terrifying. ed.]
President Trump’s response was hesitant at best, saying that some studies report the “climate is fabulous” (though he did not cite one) and others say things “aren’t so good.” He received the report with the kind of complacency that borders on dereliction of duty. It is common knowledge that the current administration has deep suspicions of the environmental movement, and he challenged the authorship of the report. “I want to know who drew it, you know which group drew it.” The President is reluctant to press forward on climate change. Instead, he clings to his promotion of the fossil fuel industry as a driver of the American economy, even though there are more jobs in the solar industry than in the coal industry.
This White House has been reticent to avoid difficult topics. But to delay or deny the role that human intervention has had on our climate has global consequences. The new UN report speaks of the impact on people across the globe, especially some of the world’s most vulnerable inhabitants: people living on small, low-lying islands, poor people, those who are constantly on the brink of drought and, ironically, those who face relentless rain, violent typhoons and repeated flooding.
Commentators often refer to President Trump as a day-trader who views each crisis as a reality TV show to be tied up in a fancy bow at the end of the episode. But the world is too complex for such a scenario. Strategic thinking, relationship-building and investing in the future are all essential elements in a successful administration (and a thriving country). But, somehow the President’s team does not seem to understand this and continues to make the same mistake over and over again.
As Florida’s panhandle emerges from the devastation of Hurricane Michael; just as the Carolinas did last month in the wake of Hurricane Florence; and Houston, Miami and Puerto Rico did last year; and while the wildfire season in the West seems to extend for the full year, President Trump must show visionary leadership. He must set in motion plans that, even if they have short-term consequences, reveal a long-term return on investment, making our country and our planet more secure and more prosperous. Plans and policies that enable us to live more in harmony with the world we call home.