In 2007, a respected council of military leaders warned that climate change is “a serious threat to America’s national security” and a “threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.”
The Defense Department began factoring climate change into its decision-making, including how to protect 128 military installations at risk from rising seas.
In 2017, President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, is reversing actions addressing the climate threat and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Jobs once held by serious scientists and administrators are being filled by people who are unqualified, self-interested and outlandish.
As residents of southeastern Texas are threatened by 13 toxic Superfund sites, flooded by this nation’s largest-ever recorded rain event, the Environmental Protection Agency is being hollowed out and led by a climate denier who is hostile to the agency’s mission.
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Republican Christine Todd Whitman, who led the EPA under President George W. Bush, is criticizing Trump’s EPA director Scott Pruitt for his “shameful attempt to confuse the public into accepting the false premise that there is no need to regulate fossil fuels.”
But Whitman’s is a lonely voice. Among Republicans in elected office, knee-jerk obstinacy prevails. The Republican House has actually tried to prohibit the Defense Department from preparing for climate change.
This partisan retreat from reality is crazy and irresponsible, but it’s not by chance.
Republicans have fallen captive to a disinformation campaign bankrolled by fossil-fuel interests and anti-government billionaires. Jane Mayer detailed this shadowy political network in her book “Dark Money.” More recently The Washington Post reported on how tax-exempt non-profits have blocked action on climate change.
As Hurricane Irma picked up steam, right-wing broadcaster Rush Limbaugh asserted that the media was hyping the hurricane “to advance this climate change agenda.” By Thursday, Limbaugh, was announcing plans to evacuate his Palm Beach home.
Beating the storm out of town is not so easy for many millions of people. In South Asia, the worst monsoons in decades have killed thousands this summer. Climate change also increases the risk of famine caused by droughts such as the one pounding Montana and North Dakota and fueling wildfires.
Science told us that storms would intensify as land and water heat up. Unusually hot seas fueled Harvey and Irma, supercharging them with more moisture and energy. As rain increasingly falls in a single big storm, rather than a series of smaller ones, droughts also are becoming more intense. None of this is a surprise. By the end of the 19th century, scientists were warning of a warming effect from burning coal and other fossil fuels which puts heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The science is solid and near unanimous, the evidence ever more compelling and the costs rising.
No one is more data-driven than an insurer. Last week Lloyd’s recommended steps, such as coastal wetlands restoration, to mitigate harm from climate change. “We know that the climate is changing and with it traditional weather patterns. . . . The world’s poorest countries face particularly acute problems — because they are on the front line of extreme weather, and are the places least able to fund recovery efforts.”
Republicans may have deluded themselves that they are protecting U.S. economic interests by ignoring the climate threat. But, as U.S. military leaders warned a decade ago, their inaction puts Americans at risk.