Trump shrugs off grim climate report
President Trump this week dismissed a dire climate report issued by his own administration, one that paints a chilling picture of the economic and environmental damage unchecked climate change could inflict on the U.S. Compiled by 13 federal agencies over two and a half years, the 1,656-page National Climate Assessment was released on Black Friday—several weeks ahead of schedule—in an apparent effort to minimize its impact. The report notes that the U.S. is already suffering the consequences of climate change, which has helped fuel devastating wildfires in California and powerful hurricanes in the South. Climate-related devastation, it says, will only increase in coming decades: Rising seas could displace millions on the East Coast; yields of key crops—including corn, wheat, and soybeans—could decline as temperatures rise; and the Southeast could end up with a fire season. By 2090, climate change could cut up to 10 percent from the country’s gross domestic product, more than double the hit taken during the Great Recession. “The severity of future impacts,” the report said, “will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”
The White House downplayed the report, saying in a statement that it was “based on the most extreme scenario” and promising a “more data-driven” assessment that would offer balance. President Trump was more blunt. “I don’t believe it,” he said of the report, later adding that “people like myself” with “very high levels of intelligence” don’t accept the scientific consensus that human activity is responsible for climate change.
What the editorials said
This report is “yet another reminder that reality will catch up to the U.S., no matter how much the president tries to ignore and deny it,” said The Washington Post. With their agenda of rolling back tailpipe and smokestack emissions standards and pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, Trump and the GOP are inflicting long-lasting damage—and the costs are becoming clearer by the day. “Future Americans will not forgive or forget what these ‘leaders’ did to them.” Trump worries about the impact anti-warming measures might have on jobs and prosperity, said The Baltimore Sun, “but a forward-looking climate change policy isn’t a zero-sum game.” Yes, jobs will be lost as we move away from burning fossil fuels, but as many—if not more—will be gained in energy conservation and renewable energy. “The longer Americans wait to adopt some rational approach to lessening the climate threat, the greater the price tag.”
What the columnists said
It’s time for a carbon tax, said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. Republicans love to cite the power of the private sector to innovate our way out of problems. Well, taxing carbon would give energy utilities, automakers, and tech startups an incentive to innovate faster and cut our reliance on polluting fossil fuels. And if Republicans “truly want to walk the walk” on cutting the excessive government regulation they claim to hate, they can start with the subsidies and regulations—such as tariffs on imported solar panels and tax breaks for oil companies—that inhibit the growth of green technology.
Take a deep breath, said Steven Koonin in The Wall Street Journal. A careful reading reveals that “the report’s numbers, uncertain as they are, turn out to be not all that alarming.” An increase in average global temperature of 9 degrees Fahrenheit—a “worst-worst case” scenario—would reduce GDP by about 4 percent, according to the report’s calculations. Count that against the 2 percent per year that GDP can conservatively be expected to rise and the effect is minimal. There are many reasons to worry about climate change, but “national economic catastrophe isn’t one of them.”
Conservatives need to pull their heads out of the sand, said S.E. Cupp in the New York Daily News. We can still be skeptical of the climate solutions offered by liberal absolutists—everybody go vegan!—but denial of climate change itself is no longer an option. When you attack science and dismiss warming “while pointing to a mound of snow in your backyard,” you are part of the problem. The sooner Republicans confront reality, “the sooner they can get to crafting a conservative strategy to combat it.” ■