December 10, 2018
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Believe the Trump administration when it warns that climate change consequences are dire

David J. Phillip | AP
David J. Phillip | AP
Rescue boats fill a flooded street as flood victims are evacuated as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise in Houston, Aug. 28, 2017.

Thirteen agencies within the Trump administration — not scientists, not the United Nations — warned last month that climate change will have devastating consequences on the U.S. and the world.

President Donald Trump, long a denier of climate change says, “I don’t believe it.”

Whether Trump believes it, his administration and most of the world’s scientists and political leaders have concluded, based on data and analysis, that climate change is a serious problem that requires serious solutions. This means the rest of the world is moving ahead with technological advances and policies to reduce emissions of heat-trapping pollutants, especially from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. The U.S. will be left behind, not just as a moral leader but also as a leader of innovation.

Here’s a quick thought experiment for Trump and other climate change deniers: What if all the scientists, the Pentagon, world leaders are somehow wrong and the world isn’t warming? If we take climate change seriously and the US invests in energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources, the country will be less reliant on oil and gas from distant — often volatile and unfriendly — regions of the world. Our homes and industry will be more energy-efficient, which saves money and reduces pollution. None of these is a bad outcome.

If the skeptics are wrong and reports like the Fourth National Climate Assessment are proven true, we could end up with a planet with large uninhabitable regions, rampant wars and unnecessary sickness and death. Not a good gamble.

Economist Mark Anderson, from the University of Maine, frames it another way, through the idea of “ disdain for the future.”

“In my way of thinking about the future, I believe there should be a bargain among the generations,” Anderson wrote last year. “Those of us in the present inherit a legacy from past generations which we should build upon to give the future a world as good as, and hopefully better than, that which we received.”

Past generations took this notion to heart. Anderson cites the example of Percival Baxter giving the land that was to become a state park named after him to the people of Maine.

“The issues of global change and our growing collective indebtedness are both extreme examples of disdain for the future,” Anderson wrote earlier this week. “They basically ask future humans to shoulder the costs of our enjoyment today.”

In this regard, Trump’s disdain for the future is irresponsible and dangerous.

You may have missed the climate change report from his administration because it was released the Friday after Thanksgiving, a day when Americans are more focused on shopping for bargains than reading the news. The report’s message is simple: Climate change is real and it poses a serious threat to Americans’ health, finances and general well-being.

The hurricanes and wildfires that are increasingly killing and displacing Americans will become more frequent and intense. Water shortages and heat waves, especially those that plague the western United States, will become more acute, causing crop failures and human deaths.

“We have wasted 15 years of response time,” Gary Yohe, a professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University, who served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the report, told the Washington Post. “If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond, and the more expensive it will be.”

In the absence of national leadership — Congress isn’t much help as Republicans have successfully shut down many bills that sought to address climate change — state and local governments, and individuals, are taking action. Janet Mills, the governor elect, has pledged to prioritize policies to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and to encourage investments and development of alternative energy sources. With support from a Democratically controlled Legislature, such policies will get Maine back on track after eights years of neglect and hostility from Gov. Paul LePage, who, like Trump, scoffed at the seriousness of climate change.

This of course is no substitute for nation and international action, but a proactive, science-based plan to tackle climate change in Maine is sorely needed.

 


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