With tours of storm-ravaged communities now a regular part of his travel plans, with praise for governors and local first responders and FEMA now a part of the script, President Donald Trump no longer feels comfortable calling climate change a hoax, as he did for so long.
But if he has evolved, he has not gone far. Yes, things have changed, he told “60 Minutes,” but they are going to change back. Yes there are more scientists who have proof of global warming and proof that it is manmade, but they also have “a political agenda.”
Washington journalists no doubt will continue wasting time on similar exchanges in the future, mistaking access to the president for real news. In two years, the rest of us will get our chance to pass judgment on the president’s leadership when it comes to climate change and so many other issues. In the meantime, we have an election in a few weeks to send people to Albany and Washington to do something about climate change. And we have no end of opportunities at many other times because so many routine government decisions relate to energy use and have a direct effect on our environment.
While the discussion until Nov. 6 will have to be political, the talk after that should expand. And there has rarely been an inspiration more likely to provide that expansion, to fuel that discussion, than the report from a United Nations science panel earlier this month that says we have 12 years to do something before we start to see a mass die-off of coral reefs, worsening food shortages and even more wildfires.
This should not come as a surprise. Even the fragmentary nature of round-the-clock news coverage of wildfires in California this summer included the notion that there no longer is a fire season with a beginning, an end and relief in between. Fires are constant and harder to control.
Storms are coming in from the ocean and the gulf with more regularity and more ferocity after having devastated any island that had the bad luck to be on the particular track. They are bringing more destructive winds, more deadly surges, more rain in more places.
Just as the Caribbean islands do not have enough time to rebuild between storms, coastal areas in the United States face the same accelerated schedule and even those who live inland beyond what used to be considered the danger zone are not secure.
The cost is in the tens of trillions, much higher than the cost of making the changes and adjustments that might postpone the deadline. But that assumes our politicians are wise enough to understand the problem, which most in charge today are not, and courageous enough to lead the effort, which even fewer are.
The solution is clear. More energy from non-polluting solar and wind, less from polluting fossil fuels, especially coal.
That’s a non-starter in today’s Washington, dooming the rest of us to watching helplessly as the storms and fires increase and we hope that that estimate of a dozen years in which to act is somehow wrong.