13 november 2018

Trump can’t deny deadly wildfires’ link to climate change

Editorial, Houston Chronicle Nov. 13, 2018

With Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to deploy 200 Texas firefighters to help fight the deadly California blaze that has destroyed thousands of acres, incinerated dozens of homes and by Tuesday had caused more than 40 deaths, residents of the Lone Star State should pay close attention to where President Donald Trump is pointing a finger of blame for the ongoing tragedy.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

It would be nice to know how the president came to his conclusion. Without an accompanying explanation, Trump’s tweet suggests it wasn’t really meant for everybody. He was speaking to a part of his political base that has been reluctant to accept that human activity is an important factor in causing climate change, which has increased wildfires in the United States.

It has only been weeks since Trump in an Oct. 15 interview on “60 Minutes” retreated from his election campaign assertion that climate change is a hoax. “There’s probably a difference,” Trump told CBS reporter Lesley Stahl. “But I don’t know that it’s man-made. I will say this. I don’t wanna give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t wanna lose millions and millions of jobs.”

Placed in context with what is happening in California, it would be understandable if some people viewed the president’s comments as a political commitment to jobs that overlooks the fact that climate change is costing people’s lives — and it’s only going to get worse.

“This is not the new normal; this is the new abnormal,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown, warning that mega-fires fueled by dry vegetation, warmth and drought will continue in the coming decades, “threatening our whole way of life.”

These “existential” conditions, as Brown called them, won’t change unless this country reduces its dependency on the fossil fuels that hasten global warming. This means replacing coal with natural gas, adding new capacity from solar and wind power and improving energy efficiency.

Even Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, embraced renewable energy along with traditional fuels when he was Texas’ governor. As a result, Texas leads the nation in wind energy, which generated about 15 percent of the state’s electricity in 2017. The Lone Star State produces more energy from wind turbines than all but five countries.

Scientists say climate change has caused less precipitation in California and other dry states and produced more rain in storm-prone states like Texas, which is still trying to recover from the flooding that devastated Houston last year.

Instead of addressing climate change, Trump is leading the nation down a dangerous path to protect certain jobs, particularly in the coal industry. He has scrapped the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, issued less stringent vehicle emissions standards and pulled America out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

It’s not clear what “payments” Trump was threatening to withhold in his tweet. Before blaming “forest management” for wildfires, however, he should acknowledge that the U.S. Forest Service is inadequately funded. As president he should know that fighting fires, which took only 16 percent of the Forest Service’s budget in 1995, now consumes 50 percent of its funding and at the current rate may eat up 67 percent of the agency’s budget by 2025.

He should also note that the city of Malibu, which was devastated by the fire, is hardly a forest.

Rather than address that funding shortage, Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke touts the removal of dead timber as the key to preventing wildfires and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says more logging and controlled burns are needed. Trump has also criticized California’s water usage policies, wrongly saying they had reduced the amount of water available to fight wildfires.

It’s time for the administration to stop ignoring what science is telling us all: Global warming is real. Human activity can cause it. Drought, wildfires, violent storms and flooding result from it. Reducing the use of fossil fuels can help prevent it.

Trump’s fear of losing jobs in states that supported him doesn’t just ignore the potential to create new, safer, healthier jobs building solar panels, wind turbines, and other equipment. He is ignoring the lives that would be saved by addressing climate change.

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