On Wednesday, July 27th, at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), we heard California Gov. Jerry Brown call Donald Trump a “fraud” and “dead wrong” for Trump’s doubts about the legitimacy of climate change. Over the years, Trump has repeatedly denied that climate change is a pervasive issue, even expressing that it may be a “hoax” that was created by “the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” If he does intend to acknowledge it as a problem, he has stated that it is “very low on the list” of issues in our modern world.
While Trump has become widely condemned, discredited,and, by some, even revered for his outlandish views and comments on many topics, his ideas about climate change are not solely his own among fellow Republicans. If they are, it would be quite a surprise to me. In fact, I believe that this disinterest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prioritizing renewable energy is a greater epidemic among the GOP as a whole.
For the entirety of President Obama’s two-term presidency, Republican Party leaders have increasingly revealed their dismissal of climate change and environmental protection, in further support of resource extractions. Back in 2008, the Republican Party platform expressed that progressive steps to reduce the amounts of carbon in the atmosphere and support for technology that mitigates climate change’s negative impacts were matters of “common sense.”
The platform was conscious about the long-term need for the U.S. to wean ourselves away from our dependence on natural fossil fuels. These past views have strongly shifted, especially following Obama’s efforts to curb global warming.
Under the Obama administration, one of the most significant advances towards this goal was the Clean Power Plan. Officially released in August 2015, serving as an affordable and reliable policy, the plan was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to further protect the environment. Now, in 2016, the GOP platform seeks to prevent the plan’s implementation. As well, the Obama administration played a key role in forming the Paris Climate Agreement, which also holds the goal of reducing global warming.
The terms of the agreement were negotiated by 195 countries, including the US, and signed by 179. However, the GOP has frankly rejected the proposal. In fact, as Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, they view the agreement as non-binding until it is submitted and formally consented to by the Senate. Although the executive branch possesses the statutory authority necessary to enforce new international commitments through domestic regulations, this has been a strong argument by the GOP.
In further opposition to environmental progress, Republicans seek to continue, even increase, the production and use of coal and oil energy sources. They question the warnings from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. On the few occasions that climate change was mentioned at the Republican National Convention (RNC), it was used as a tool to deride Democrats for pursuing climate change reduction.
Trump and fellow GOP members support the Keystone XL pipeline, which would cause 17% higher greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction. Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has been quoted as saying that global warming is only a "myth" and he wrongfully stated that “the Earth is actually cooler today than it was about 50 years ago.”
Back in February, Republican senator of Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, expressed similar views to those of Mike Pence. He literally brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in an attempt to disprove global warming with “scientific analysis.” He stated that it is “very, very cold outside,” as evidence to underscore the fact that climate change is a myth.
More recently, Inhofe has claimed that kids are being “brainwashed” about climate change, even dismissing his own granddaughter’s contentions about his lack of understanding about the threat of climate changes. Such uninformed and misguided notions are truly concerning for me.
They also confuse me. The Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus, was quick to point out that Democrats did not mention the Islamic State or global terrorism on the first night of the DNC; he criticized Democrats for their lack of concern for “national security issues.” However, ironically, there is more than enough compelling evidence that climate change is definitely a national security issue, especially as it has contributed to terrorism. Many military experts have even clearly drawn links between the threats of ISIL and climate change.
Former Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, who works as a meteorologist and led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change, is one of these experts. In reference to a peer-reviewed study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, titled “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” Titley stated that there is “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought. He further explained that one “can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.” Such connections include factors such as agricultural collapse and mass migration, which caused uprisings in the region.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has also stated that climate change is a “threat multiplier” for terrorism, as rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, etc. negatively impact the military’s ability to execute missions. The Pentagon has characterized climate change as an “immediate security threat.” As well, the American Security Project has further clarified the details of this threat which include “migration, conflict over scarce resources, reduced food production, water insecurity, and others.”
In opposition to these credible arguments, Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma gas and oil tycoon, concocted the idea that "every time we can't drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded” at the RNC. This is the man that Trump is reportedly considering as his “energy secretary." In addition, the Republican North Dakota Representative Kevin Cramer has even spoken in support of climate change at the RNC, stating that “we’re for a warmer climate.” He is Trump’s current energy advisor.
Now, we can joke and ridicule the GOP for their lack of interest in climate change, but this issue is more serious than many of us would like to think. In case you do not know, possibly because there has been limited media attention, a huge forest fire has been burning in Siberia. As one of largest forest fires in history, it is melting large amounts of permafrost, which has been further releasing large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas. However, the Russian government has downplayed the problem, probably because they still cannot contain it, while the U.S. media has been virtually silent about the issue.
To put the issue into perspective, the Russian government has estimated that about 2,583 square miles have burned; this estimation is bogus. According to Grigory Kuksin of Greenpeace Russia, the true extent of the fire is over ten times this amount, at about 27,027 square miles; about the area of West Virginia. When Canada saw more than 1,500 square miles burn this year, media attention seemed to be more apparent, but I would have expected that this current issue would be more alarming.
Just think of it like this: once the methane starts to leak, it causes the Earth to warm. As the Earth gets warmer and more methane is released, there is no method to remove previously emitted methane. Even if gas emissions stopped today, the effects of climate change would still continue for centuries. Because the cycle can only be reduced, the current goal is to slow global warming enough for humans to adapt to it. One of the worst parts about this problem is that the time to take drastic action was about 15 to 20 years ago.
Scientists have been reportedly “caught off-guard by record temperatures linked to climate change” in 2016; these temperatures could endanger people, animals and water systems, while further causing uncertainty about extreme weather conditions. According to notable scientist Natalia Shakhova, we may have only decades before conditions become much worse.
We, humans, have legitimate global issues that will result from climate change yet we do not have a global consensus about how to tackle this issue or whether we even should. Republicans who further sow the seeds of doubt and dissent over climate change, in favor of greater carbon emissions and non-renewable resource extractions, are greatly contributing to another detriment of humanity and the entire biosphere. These seem to be anthropocentric notions with short term goals.
By favoring resource extractions over environmental protection, one expresses an obligation to relatively short-term wealth and prosperity without regard for progress in health, biodiversity, or pollution in the environment, and the general future of the US.
I recognize that not all Republicans share such skepticism about global warming; some even support action taken to reduce climate change. However, these small efforts on the GOP side have not taken precedent or caused significant influences to the current GOP platform. This issue transcends the boundaries of political parties, as, again, there is a consensus among scientists about climate change. For the sake of all of us, do your own research into this issue if you have doubts. Do not reject scientific analyses or contribute to ignorance.