GOP denies climate change, America pays the price

Rush Limbaugh in 2012

Let’s check in with two of America’s foremost experts on climate change.

It’s a hoax, President Trump has said, invented by the Chinese.

It’s a plot by the media and retailers to gin up fear — thus attracting viewers and boosting sales of batteries and bottled water, Rush Limbaugh sneered (just before he fled Palm Beach ahead of Hurricane Irma).

And there you have it. Nothing to see, folks, just a vast left-wing conspiracy.

It’s useless to explain to those who put political dogma before science that when air is warmer, it holds more water vapor. It’s that simple. The Economist notes that the world’s average temperature is about 1.2 degrees higher (Fahrenheit) than it was as recently as 1979. That’s a lot more water in the atmosphere — and it eventually it’s got to come down.

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To such learned men like Limbaugh, who has a college degree from — well, from nowhere — that just means we get rain from time to time. After all, the weather changes every day, right? Brilliant!

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But to others, who take such matters more intelligently, it means this: Weather-related disasters are increasing dramatically. Data from Munich RE, one of the world’s leading reinsurers, notes big spikes since 1980 in “meteorological events” (storms), “hydrological events” (floods, landslides and avalanches), and “climatological events” (extreme temperatures, droughts, forest fires). Munich’s data underscores what should be obvious to all but the most partisan skeptic: that the frequency, intensity and duration of “weather-related” events is on the rise.

This is the part where deniers mock “fake news” because it doesn’t jibe with their political beliefs. This is the highest form of ignorance: denying things that have already occurred.

Speaking of denial, one of the first things Florida Gov. Rick Scott did when he took office in 2011 was to ban official use of the words “climate change,” “global warming” and “sustainability.”.

Such annoying phrases. Granted, Scott has done a good job in the days before and after Hurricane Irma. But we’ll never know how much less damage there might have been to businesses and homeowners had Scott chosen not censorship, but leadership six years ago by acknowledging climate change and facing it head on. Silence doesn’t make a problem like this go away.

Trump’s actions, meanwhile, have spoken louder than any words, banned or otherwise. He took more money from the coal industry — by far — than anyone else during the 2016 campaign. And as president, he has returned the favor in spades. He famously pulled out of the Paris climate pact — joining only war-ravaged Syria and tiny Nicaragua on the sidelines. He complained about all of Barack Obama’s executive orders, but signed one scrapping Obama’s Clean Power Plan rule designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

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Trump has blamed Obama for coal’s decline, but the real reason is lower natural gas prices. Obama became president in 2009, yet between 2000 and 2010, power plants generated 50% more electricity from gas, while coal’s use declined slightly.

Obama gave these trends a further nudge, no doubt about it, but the shift from coal to cleaner, cheaper natural gas appears irreversible. I empathize with the coal industry, just as I would have empathized with the horse and buggy crowd in 1908, when Henry Ford’s first Model T spelled their demise. It’s called progress, folks.

And no column on energy and climate change would be complete without mentioning perhaps the worst Cabinet-rank pick ever made by an American president: Scott Pruitt. Pruitt, a climate denier par excellence, has, behind a cloak of secrecy and fear, turned the Environmental Protection Agency into an arm of the fossil fuel industry that has long had him in its pocket.

Pruitt has been Trump’s hatchet man in the administration’s war on science. Just as Rick Scott can’t say the words “climate change,” as Hurricane Irma barreled towards Florida, Pruitt said that this wasn’t the time to talk about climate change. The timing, he said, was “insensitive.”.

You know what’s insensitive? Appearing to not give a hoot. Pruitt has purged the EPA of scientists and others who don’t fall in line with the administration’s agenda, halted data on fossil fuel emissions and taken down more than 1,900 web pages on topics like climate change, The New York Times claims. But Pruitt’s damage to the country extends far beyond denial of science. He has weakened water safety rules and moved to eliminate programs that limit children’s exposure to lead-based paint — which is known to cause brain damage.

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This is a good time to point out, again, that elections have consequences. Approximately 42% of Americans eligible to vote in November didn’t. History, economics and the free market will ultimately prove Trump, Scott, Pruitt and their ilk wrong. Until then, this question: How much more damage to our environment must we endure?

Paul Brandus, founder and White House bureau chief of West Wing Reports, is the author of Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter @WestWingReport.

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