Apparently it’s “insensitive” to talk about climate change when hurricanes have devastated large areas of the southern states of the US.
Apparently we must focus solely on the immediate needs of victims: the people whose homes and businesses have been destroyed by 100mph-plus winds and the millions who are without power.
So says the climate change-denying head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who was appointed by the climate change-denying American President Donald Trump earlier this year. Which is a strange line.
The mayor of Miami – who oversaw the evacuation of his city and a directly democratically elected representative of the victims – doesn’t think it’s insensitive at all.
“This is the time to talk about climate change,” said Tomas Regalado. “This is the time that the President and the EPA and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change.”
Other prospective victims of violent winds and flooding brought on by global warming have similar conversational priorities.
Over in the Indian Ocean, the former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, certainly wants to talk about climate change. He says his homeland is on “death row” thanks to Trump’s decision earlier this year to pull out of the Paris Accord, the multilateral effort to drastically reduce global carbon emissions.
The prime minister of Fiji, Voreqe Bainimarama, whose entire population of 870,000 faces the prospect of being made homeless by global warming in the coming decades, wants to talk about it. Bainimarama will preside over the 23rd climate change conference in Bonn in November, where world leaders will try to chart a course forward on multilateral decarbonisation efforts in the wake of Trump’s shameful walkout.
Even 13 US states, which together account for a third of America’s GDP, want to talk about climate change. The mayors of 83 US cities want to talk about it. And not only do they want to talk about it – they want to act on it. They want to get on with reducing emissions through smart regulations, new taxes and investments in renewable energy infrastructure.
In fact the people who really don’t want to talk about climate change at this moment are those who claim it’s not actually happening. The “insensitivity” of talking about climate change at this juncture is not to those who have suffered from violent weather in recent weeks (or those who are most threatened by it in future) but to climate change deniers like Pruitt himself and his patron in the White House.
This conversation is deeply inconvenient to the US Republican Party, which has now given itself over almost entirely to a demented denial of the role of humans in driving up the planet’s temperature and contributing to the generation of more violent hurricanes, among other terrible things. Talking about climate change at this time vividly exposes the disastrous consequences of their anti-scientific theology – devastation that gives a foretaste of the pain that is likely to follow if they continue to successfully frustrate decarbonisation efforts.
Talking about climate change, while the damage it threatens fills our screens, exposes the ranters of Fox News and the US talk-radio demagogues, who all still insist that climate change is some kind of elaborate left-wing hoax, as the conspiracy theorists that they are.
This conversation exposes the complacent fallacy that climate change is a developing world problem, that it will never inconvenience the citizens of rich countries like America. It exposes the shallowness of the idea that engineering “adaptation” to a warmer world, rather than a serious effort at emission reduction, should be the priority of policymakers.
The total bill in terms of destruction to property and economic disruption in Texas and Florida this summer has been estimated at perhaps $300bn – equal to around 1.5 per cent of America’s total GDP.
Such colossal figures should be no surprise. At the risk of being insensitive to those who rubbished it at the time, it was 11 years ago that the landmark report by the former World Bank chief economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, made it clear that the future economic benefits of action by governments today to curb emissions would considerably outweigh the economic costs.
So let’s not worry about the sensibilities of the science deniers, the ideologues, the vested interests, the charlatans and the cynical wreckers. Let’s worry about capitalising on this teachable moment to drive down carbon emissions and forestall the destruction that a considerably hotter world threatens for all of us.
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