I checked into my hotel room in Key Largo, Florida, earlier
this week overlooking a Canal that opens to the Everglades. Sailboats and
Dolphins against a backdrop of calm waters reflecting a fiery orange sunset.
That magnificent view was disturbed by the sight of destruction below my
balcony — debris littering the shoreline.
As I was walking on the brand new boardwalk I’ve noticed the telltale signs of destruction and rebuilding. The hotel wasn’t completely reopened with the east wing still under reconstruction. Talking to the locals was revealing. Many I spoke to mentioned “Irma” as if it were a family member. “If you take a boat out, you can’t follow the navigation because ‘Irma’ shifted all of the sandbars around,” said a local sailor exclaiming “the destruction goes beyond what you can see.”
Hurricane Irma is only one of the numerous weather systems born out of the increasingly volatile effects of climate change. The monstrous hurricane Irma of last year, 2017, along with this year’s hurricane Michael, claimed more lives in Florida than all of the preceding hurricanes combined since 2000. The destructive pattern is undeniable and no longer limited to harrowing stories of survival or statistical data of death. Most of us are removed from the suffering for now, but not for long.
The fourth National Climate Assessment released by the White House on Friday paints a grim picture of wide-reaching effects on a national level. The devastating outlook on the economy, health and environment are increasing beyond localities hit by hurricanes or burnt town in out of control wildfires. Record rainfall, cold snaps and heatwaves are captured in exponentially increasing statistics and viral videos. They are now becoming the norm rather than the exception.
The Climate Report
The Congressionally mandated report is a synthesis of research carried out by 13 US Federal agencies delivered to the President every four years. The most surprising finding is the loss of 10% of US GDP by 2100. There is not a specific date for when this will take place because the sequence of events has already started changing the economic cycle in more ways than one. The reports admit “The impacts of climate change beyond our borders are expected to increasingly affect our trade and economy, including import and export prices and US businesses with overseas operations and supply chains.” The global economic effects will be magnified as other nations suffer from their own slowdown. The effects are already happening. I’ve been watching cell phone footage of floodings in Saudi Arabia and killer cyclones in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Climate change is a global problem that demands our immediate attention.
Although the report is limited to climate change effects within the US, it references the global nature of the problem. Although the US cannot fix it alone, it has a leading role to live up to. If not for the sake of humanity, it should do so for selfish reasons realizing the symbiotic connection between the global and the local especially vulnerable communities. “Global action to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions can substantially reduce climate-related risks and increase opportunities for these populations in the longer term” the report asserts.
Despite this objective warning from within the US administration, the White House economic growth plan relies heavily on an aggressive agenda to deregulate environmental policies. The conflict between this environmental doctrine and the report’s conclusion is stark. The chances of the White House reversing course is slim to none as president Trump is boastful about rolling back environmental regulation. He said last month by “we took regulations off that allow us to do things we would never have been able to do.”
There should be no more room for anyone to deny global climate change. It was always embarrassing when misguided US politicians deny global warming in responding to questions on their overseas visits. That embarrassment should turn into proactive objection as we all face deteriorating health and quality of life. This conclusion has been put forth by scientists over decades, confirmed by federal agencies, observed by all on the news and personally felt by an increasing number of people - and now it will start eating into everyone's bank account.
Short-term gains vs. long-term pains
The moral question pitting short-term financial gains against long-term national well-being is coming to a head in the Oval Office. The four-year presidential election cycle favors short-term political gains. The chance of Trump winning his re-election bid is predicated on a number of factors including economic prosperity. Trump will double down on his environmental deregulation strategy after realizing the limited gains tax cuts delivered at the polls earlier this month in the midterm elections. Tax cuts disproportionately serve the rich. As mid and low-income taxpayers realize the limited personal benefits of those tax cuts the electorate will be less inclined to vote for him come November of 2020.
Upward mobility and job opportunities are yardsticks felt and understood by workers. Political slogans and genius social media campaigns can compel people in the short term, but their pocketbook is more persuasive. Fear politics is one political tool available to Trump, and he's making the most out of it. He’s invoking the “Wall” and sending troops to the southern border in a show of force against mostly downtrodden families fleeing violence in their homelands. The optics are unavoidable and the nation is taking notice, including his loyal base.
Trump tactics are reliant on that base. He is inducing a sense of division to keep his base engaged and fired up. This political strategy will only succeed if he can deliver on his promises for an “America First” leading to increased economic opportunities for the electorate. Environmental deregulation might cause better economic numbers between now and 2020, but it is an unsustainable tactic. He knows as well as we do of the impending economic slowdown. This conclusion is spelled out in black and white in the report his office published mere days ago. Betting against Mother Nature is ill-informed and potentially disastrous for the nation and the rest of the globe.