Sixteen-year-old climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg, in a gut-wrenching, emotion-filled address to world leaders at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit, in New York, last month, spoke these powerful words:
“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight…
“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”
Following Thunberg’s day-of-reckoning speech at the UN came a week of climate strikes and marches attended by over six million. My wife and I went to the climate strike rally in front of the Old Putnam County Courthouse. No town or county elected official made an appearance. I meandered over to some high school kids and wondered out loud whether our climate crisis is being discussed in school. Their collective responses: “Barely!”
As a community and a nation, we seem to have our heads in the sand regarding the impending climate crisis. According to the Climate Change Performance Index, the United States is one of the five worst countries in the world at protecting the world’s climate, just a notch above Saudi Arabia.
The recent words of writer Jonathan Franzen say it best: “If you’re younger than 60, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth—massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought.”
In a 2018 report to Congress and President Trump, The National Climate Assessment, a team of more than 300 experts, guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, concluded the following: High temperature extremes and heavy precipitation events are increasing. Glaciers and snow cover are shrinking, and sea ice is retreating. Seas are warming, rising, and becoming more acidic, and marine species are moving to new locations toward cooler waters. Flooding is becoming more frequent along the U.S. coastline. Growing seasons are lengthening, and wildfires are increasing. Unless there are substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, substantial net damage to the U.S. economy will occur throughout this century, totaling hundreds of billions of dollars, annually.
Just consider this past July. It was the hottest month ever recorded in history. Ice melted in record-breaking amounts in Greenland, contributing to rising sea levels. Hurricane Dorian destroyed parts of the Bahamas, leaving over 70,000 people homeless. And, drought, flooding and fires affected large swaths of Africa, Latin America, Antarctica, the Pacific Islands, and Pakistan.
There is no issue more dire than the climate crisis. The environmental harm Trump has done to date is incalculable. Yet, going into next year’s presidential election, Trump is the overwhelming favorite of Republicans to serve a second term.
Bill McKibben, a leading voice in the environmental movement, has written extensively about the effects of Trump’s policies: “[They] will be felt…over decades and centuries and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet’s reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat. The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won’t mostly die in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be submerged won’t sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will sink.”
According to National Geographic, in just the past three years the Trump administration has had an alarming influence on our air, water, and wildlife: The U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The Environmental Protection Agency scrapped the clean-power plan, significantly loosening regulations on toxic air pollution; and rules regarding methane-flaring practices, equipment inspections, and repairing leaks were rescinded.
Under the Affordable Clean Energy rule, issued in August 2018, Trump gave states more power over regulating emissions. States that produce fossil fuels are extremely likely, therefore, to weaken regulations.
Trump has weakened Obama-era fuel economy rules. Cars made after 2012 would, on average, have had to get 54 miles per gallon by 2025. In August 2018, Trump’s Department of Transportation and EPA capped that target at only 34 mph.
Trump has revoked flood standards accounting for sea-level rise. Under Obama, federally funded projects were required to factor rising sea levels into construction. However, in 2018, the Department of Housing and Urban Development rescinded those rules.
Also, in July 2018, the Trump Administration changed the way the Endangered Species Act is administered. When designating an endangered animal’s habitat, significantly more weight will now be put on economic considerations. In addition, companies installing large wind turbines, constructing power lines, or leaving oil exposed are no longer violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act if their activities kill birds.
National monuments, such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, have now been opened for mining and drilling, and Trump has issued an executive order calling for a 30 percent increase in logging on public lands.
In 2017, the Trump administration dropped climate change from a list of national security threats, significantly curtailing funding meant to assess the potential impacts of wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.
Criminal prosecutions of polluters, conducted by the EPA, are at a 30-year low, and many violations that would have been prosecuted in the past are now being dropped or secretly negotiated.
A 2018 New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law School, concludes that the Trump administration’s rollbacks and proposed reversals of environmental rules will likely “cost the lives of over 80,000 U.S. residents per decade and lead to respiratory problems for more than 1 million people annually.”
To repeat Greta Thunberg’s powerful words: Republicans… “The eyes of all future generations are upon you.”