Another week, another tragic juxtaposition in our nation’s decades-long history of failure to address global climate disruption. At the same time as a vast field of ice north of Greenland has just broken apart, for the first time in recorded history, the Trump administration announced new, lax rules for coal-powered plants that they themselves admit will kill over a thousand people each year.
And for what? The cost-benefit analysis of that new rule is pretty depressing.
On the benefit side, there is more profit for coal companies, and short-term jobs for coal miners. Those jobs will all be gone within a few decades, of course, because technology will render them obsolete. But in the short term, they help Trump stay in power and help some people feel important.
On the cost side, 1,400 estimated deaths per year from all that extra coal-powered pollution. That’s not some figure put out by environmental groups. It’s from the Trump administration’s own EPA.
Even those thousand deaths a year though is nothing compared to the ultimate cost of climate change. Just recently, the World Health Organization estimated that between 2030-2050, climate change will cause approximately 250,000 deaths every year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. And that was before Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord, making matters worse.
That number doesn’t even include deaths caused from massive migration and refugee crises. Consider Syria, where the drought of 2007-2010 forced farmers to abandon their farms for the cities and caused food shortages, riots, overcrowding, instability, and civil unrest. That led to a brutal war, and thousands of refugees fleeing for Europe.
Scientists know what caused the Syrian drought. That same WHO report concluded that climate change “made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone.”
Now multiply the Syrian refugee crisis by a thousand.
Same with wildfires devastating California, which were made more likely by extremely hot weather conditions, but which Trump’s lackeys have blamed on trees that should’ve been clear-cut instead of left standing. Expect more of that in the very near future as well.
There’s no doubt as to why all this happening.
According to NASA, the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997. Based on carbon samples, the NOAA says that the last three decades have, on average, been the warmest on 1,000 years.
The problem isn’t that the data is unclear. It’s that it hasn’t prompted enough political action. Columns like these are written routinely after the latest, outrageous, demoralizing discovery. But “we” still haven’t done anything about climate change. Why? Is it because we’re still using plastic straws? Not composting? Still taking airplane flights for vacation?
No. “We” have failed at addressing climate change because there is no single human “we.” And at present, there are other people fighting against "us," people with billions of dollars at stake, and millions to spend on the fight: energy companies, extreme libertarians who don’t want to protect the weak from the strong, “pro-business” Republicans who depend on energy industry money, and fake scientists who whore themselves out for cash.
For thirty years now, these folks have worked hard to lie to the public about science, even though 97 percent of actual scientists know for sure that human-caused emissions of “greenhouse gases” like methane and carbon dioxide are causing global climate disruption.
They have their own television networks, like Fox News and Sinclair, and their own extremist news outlets like Town Hall and Breitbart, which call scientists “climate alarmists.” They’ve created an entire parallel universe of fake facts, fake science, and fake organizations.
Let’s try to remember names like Senator James Inhofe or EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, or groups like the Heartland Institute or American Petroleum Institute. In a few decades, when the bill comes due, these are the people who we can and should point to as having run it up.
And they have done an effective job doing so. Today only 64 percent of Americans “believe” the science of climate change (down from over 80 percent in the '90s)—as if science is something to be believed. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans say climate science is “exaggerated” and only 34 percent believe that changes due to climate change have already begun— even though those effects have already been observed.
About a quarter of Americans even disbelieve the science for religious reasons; they believe God gave us the earth to use, and it would be wrong not to use it up.
Science shouldn’t be a matter of opinion, but because of the climate denial campaign, it’s sometimes seen that way. Real scientists tell the truth, and then fake, industry-paid “scientists” tell lies, and people believe what their friends believe. When they watch Fox News, they believe that science is actually some left-wing conspiracy.
But here’s the depressing truth. Journalists like me have no power to penetrate this shell of lies. Conservatives aren’t listening to me, and if by some chance someone in their “bubble” shares an article I’ve written, it gets dismissed with links to those same fake scientists and fake websites. I’m called a “climate alarmist” myself.
To be honest, this feeling of hopelessness makes me want to quit sometimes. Actually, it makes me want to quit all the time. I hate whistling in the wind like this, preaching to people who agree with me, and unable to persuade anyone who doesn’t already. It makes my work feel pointless. At least my baby daughter can know, decades from now, that, among all the other fights we’re fighting today—about immigrants, about Russia, about the courts and the free press—many of us did fight against the lies about climate change. I am fighting those lies. But when the government admits that a policy it is pursuing will result in 1,400 potential deaths and then does it anyway, we’ve lost. And for that I am so, so sorry.