The title of this article will put many people off – climate change is viewed as involving very complex issues and few people want to hear about disappearing coral reefs or the impact of thawing permafrost on the heating of the planet. It is much easier to espouse an opinion on how to deal with the dictators in Syria or North Korea or to take a stand on that famous wall on the Mexican border.
Most people are engaged with day-to-day issues that impact their lives – taxes, prices in the supermarket and the effectiveness of our educational system. However, in this context we need to consider the longer-term effects of our behavior and the policies that our government pursues. American Indian wisdom urges us to take responsibility for how our actions or inaction affect people’s lives “seven generations” from now.
Americans are divided on the reality and seriousness of global warming. More than 95% of climate scientists are clear that we are facing urgent problems caused mostly by carbon emissions in the atmosphere, mainly generated by coal and oil. The rising ocean levels and retreating glaciers are clear warning signs of impending disasters. If our temperatures rise another three degrees Celsius, environmental experts warn that the consequences for our planet will be cataclysmic.
Those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific consensus argue either that the whole climate change crisis culture is a creation of the liberal scientific establishment, or that, while climate change is real, it is no different from unavoidable natural phenomena that have been experienced in previous geological ages.
These deniers and doubters are now in power in this country and, true to form, they are slashing the funding for agencies and programs that are in place to protect the environment. For instance, Mr. Trump has promised to promote coal-fired power plants that are clearly unhealthy for the air people breathe, while oil pipelines leaking dangerous vapors also have his approval and blessing.
It speaks volumes for the President’s attitude to the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) and to the whole question of climate change that he appointed Scott Pruitt to head the agency. Mr. Pruitt, a former attorney general in Oklahoma, repeatedly challenged the authority of the EPA, the agency he now leads, to regulate mercury levels or smog and carbon emissions. Surely a case of placing the fox in charge of the henhouse.
The new stress on America-first style narrow nationalism which is also to the fore in parts of Europe is not helpful for those arguing for clean energy because this is an international problem. Polluted air and water obviously do not recognize border divisions. The Paris Climate Agreement, negotiated under the aegis of the United Nations in 2015, achieved real progress with 195 governments committing to take action to lower greenhouse gas emissions in their countries.
More people are becoming aware of the dangerous reality of rising sea levels and coastal erosion, and the Paris Agreement was a serious international effort to slow the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Mr. Trump and his advisors have talked about pulling out or re-negotiating this important international agreement. Certainly, his negative approach and attitude in this area compare poorly with his predecessor, President Obama’s firm commitment to combating policies that damage the ecosystem.
The President uses job creation as his main argument for supporting the development of the coal and oil industries. In fact, the biggest area of sectoral employment growth in the last decade has been in the renewable energy industry. The costs of solar and wind power have dropped significantly in recent years and close to three million new jobs have been created by companies promoting these new clean technologies.
There is also a strong moral dimension to this issue. All the world religions agree that we have a profound solemn obligation to respect all creation and preserve the land, sea and air with their myriad forms of life for future generations.
Pope Francis in his compelling encyclical, Laudato Si, published two years ago, wrote of global warming causing “severe droughts, floods, fires and extreme weather events – contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis.” He has added an eighth Work of Mercy to the traditional seven, calling it “Care for Our Common Home,” and he urged all Catholics to go to confession to seek absolution for their sins against God’s creation.
Global warming should not be a political party consideration in the United States. It is not a Democratic or Republican issue; liberals or conservatives cannot claim it as their own. Traditional conservatives and liberals always called for serious consideration for the long-term consequences of government actions, and indeed, a recent poll showed that a slight majority of voters describing themselves as liberal or moderate Republicans support implementation of the Paris Agreement on the environment. President Trump should listen to these voters.