Why you should care
The United Nations and Exxon Mobil try to wake the president up to the realities of climate change.
By the end of the century, a good portion of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club grounds will be conquered by the Florida Intracoastal Waterway. This is peanuts, of course, when compared to the grim fate of billions around the world in the coming decades. But perhaps a personal appeal can turn the president’s attention to a landmark United Nations report this week that lays out a future of wildfires, drought and food shortages.
And that’s if the world actually hits the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The point of the report was to show policymakers a path to an already troubling but not catastrophic 2.7 degrees of warming. This would require a massive rejiggering of the world’s economy, including all but eliminating coal-fired power and reducing beef consumption in Western countries by 90 percent.
Our steak- and coal-miner-loving president was … surprisingly noncommittal about the whole thing.
Even as our understanding of how we’re cooking the planet has grown with more scientific research, public opinion hasn’t moved too much.
“It was given to me, and I want to look at who drew it,” he told reporters at the White House when asked about the U.N. report. “I can give you reports that are fabulous, and I can give you reports that aren’t so good. But I will be looking at it.”
Trump has called climate change a China-backed hoax designed to tank our economy. He withdrew the U.S. from the Paris accord in June 2017 because of its “harsh economic restrictions.”
Short-termism has infected our politics and society for so long that it’s easy to dismiss the recommendations as about as likely as hitching a ride off this doomed rock with Elon Musk. The report occupied the media for all of a couple hours before everyone moved along to cover Nikki Haley’s departure from the U.N., the disappearance and alleged assassination of a Saudi journalist and, of course, Kanye West’s visit to the Oval Office. Meanwhile, another monster storm has slammed into Florida.
Back in 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vowed the U.S. would take a leading role on the issue. And while America has made strides on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in recent years as coal power declines, the political system — regardless of the party in control — has steadfastly refused drastic action out of economic concerns.
Even as our understanding of how we’re cooking the planet has grown with more scientific research and the evidence becomes clearer, public opinion hasn’t moved too much. About 59 percent of Americans believe the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause of global warming, with that number rising 5 percentage points since last year, according to a new Yale University survey. But over the past decade, the trend lines have been fairly consistent — most Democrats believe it, and most Republicans don’t.
In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2017
It’s reflected in our politics. The rare Republican to stand up for a carbon tax — witness Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, where rising seas are already packing a wallop — is considered a profile in courage.
So in a search for climate leadership, we turn to …. Exxon Mobil? Yes, the oil giant announced this week it will give $1 million to a campaign to support a carbon tax, in a search for regulatory certainty as the oil behemoth is wary of seesawing presidential administrations. Could this be a crass ploy to help its natural gas business at the expense of coal? Sure. Did Exxon spend decades hiding its own knowledge about climate change while attacking the science around it? You betcha.
But if Exxon can come around, perhaps Trump can too. The Curbelo bill actually uses a carbon tax to replace a gas tax and uses the extra money for infrastructure — an unachieved Trump campaign pledge. Or perhaps a long look at how many Trump Organization properties, from towers to golf courses, sit by the sea might change his mind on the fate of the polar ice caps.
Just don’t make him ditch the steak.