This week is the third anniversary of the Paris climate agreement. The administration of United States President Donald Trump marked it by sidelining science and undermining the accord at climate talks underway in Katowice, Poland.
While I was in New Delhi last week, where I met with solar energy advocates, a comment made thousands of miles away by journalist Bob Woodward almost jumped off my iPad: The president, he said, “makes decisions often without a factual basis”. This isn’t a mere personality quirk of the leader of the free world. It is profoundly dangerous for the entire planet.
Scientists tell us we must act now to avoid the ravages of climate change. The collision of facts and alternative facts has hurt America’s efforts to confront this existential crisis. Ever since Trump announced that he would pull America out of the Paris accord, those of us in the fight have worked to demonstrate that the American people are still in.
But the test is not whether the nation’s cities and states can make up for Trump’s rejection of reality. They can. The test is whether the nations of the world will pull out of the mutual suicide pact that we’ve all passively joined through an inadequate response to this crisis.
Talk to leaders who are gathered in Poland. They acknowledge that we aren’t close to getting the job done in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. People are dying today because of climate change, and many more will die and trillions of dollars of damage to property will occur unless America gets back in the fight.
The evidence is hard to miss. Fifteen of the biggest fires in California history have occurred in the past 18 years. We roll our eyes when the president suggests “raking” the forest is the answer. But clever internet memes don’t help when the stakes are this high.
Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma cost the US some $265 billion (Dh974.67 billion) in damages. Historic droughts are matched by historic floods. Heatwaves stole 153 billion hours of labour globally last year. Infectious diseases are moving into new areas and higher altitudes. Crop yields are down in more than two dozen countries, and by 2050, the Midwestern US could see agricultural productivity drop to its lowest level in decades. But this is a mere preview of what’s to come.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the changes required to hold global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), as called for in the Paris agreement, would require changes on a scale with “no documented historic precedent”.
Every day we lose ground debating alternative facts. It’s not a “he said/she said” — there’s truth. Even the recent congressionally mandated climate assessment warns that “with continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product of many US states”.
Emissions are forecast to go up by 2.7 per cent worldwide this year. Instead of reining them in, the Trump administration would unleash more by replacing the Clean Power Plan with a rule that could allow power plants to unload 12 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Instead of controlling fuel emissions, the administration is rolling back fuel economy standards that the auto industry had embraced. Instead of keeping a lid on methane, it’s making it more likely that this potent greenhouse gas will leak into the atmosphere.
Future generations will measure us by whether we acted on facts, not just debated or denied them. The verdict will hang on whether we put in place policies that will drive the development and deployment of clean technologies, re-energise our economies, and tackle global climate change. That’s not hyperbole — that’s science.
Instead of tacitly accepting that inaction is preordained for the remaining two years of the Trump presidency, Congress should send Trump legislation addressing this crisis. It will force him to make choices the American people will long remember: Will he say no to deploying solar technology that would turn the American West into the Saudi Arabia of solar? No to turning the Midwest into the Middle East of wind power? No to a manufacturing revolution that could put West Virginia back to work in ways that his beloved coal never will?
If we fail, future generations will judge us all as failures, not just this president. They will have no time for excuses. Facts matter. Act on them.
— New York Times News Service
John Kerry was the 68th US secretary of state from 2013 to 2017. He was the Democratic nominee for the 2004 presidential election.