While the Trump administration censors the term ‘climate change’ for government institutions, the Pentagon highlights the urgency of the crisis
SHARMINI PERIES: This is our year end 2017 fundraising season here at The Real News Network. Do donate to our Climate Crisis Bureau. We believe that climate change is the greatest crisis facing humanity.
President Trump has unveiled a national security strategy for a new era. That strategy has removed the term “climate change” from the list of national security threats.
DONALD TRUMP: The first duty of our government is to serve its citizens, many of whom have been forgotten. But they are not forgotten anymore. With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first. We are rebuilding our nation, our confidence and our standing in the world. We have moved swiftly to confront our challenges and we have confronted them head-on.
SHARMINI PERIES: One challenge the Trump administration is not confronting head-on is the increasing number of natural disasters linked to climate change.
Although the Pentagon has said that climate change is a substantial security threat, the Trump administration has instructed officials at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to eliminate certain key phrases from its lexicon, mainly the words “climate change” and “science based” from documents that are being prepared for the 2018 budget. Even more hypocritical is that behind closed doors, President Trump signed a 700 billion dollar bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, which directs defense policy from the upcoming year, which calls climate change a direct threat to the national security of the United States. The phrase narrowly escaped censorship by the US Congress and it still remains in the bill.
So, while the DOD may be ramping up to protect US military bases from the threat of climate change abroad, what about protection from the very threats to the people here at home? Trump has lauded his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord as a target to save America money from what he calls “job killing regulations.” But what to make of the cost of ever more intense disasters linked to human-caused climate change? 90 people were killed when Hurricane Harvey made US landfall in August. It was the most expensive tropical cyclone on record, inflicting nearly $200 billion in damage, primarily from widespread flooding in the Houston metropolitan area.
Three days of rainfall amounted to 50 inches of rain in some areas of Houston. According to the World Weather Attribution Initiative, the rainfall was roughly three times more likely and 15% more intense because of climate change. The analysis also makes clear that along the Gulf Coast, extreme rainfall events like this one are on the rise. Separate research just published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Letters finds that climate change likely increased Harvey’s rainfall by 20% and possibly as much as 38%. One of the flood’s biggest dangers was the proximity of toxic chemicals from the very industry that has contributed most to climate change, the oil and gas sector.
REGGIE JAMES: You have to remember what the area that we’re talking about, the Houston ship channel, the largest petrochemical complex in the United States. But there are also multiple 10s of Superfund sites, and then about the same number of state-designated superfund sites. There are uncapped oil and gas wells. There’s lots of chemicals on site. There were sewage treatment plants. There were all kinds of things that were flooded. There’s a concern about a superfund site right now that was flooded and has leaked dioxin into the environment, so it’s a huge concern. It’s overwhelming. They waived environmental laws when the crisis hit so that companies could shut down at the last minute and with no limit on wet emissions and there’s still people living there that have to breathe this.
SHARMINI PERIES: While scientists are often cautious about linking single extreme weather events to climate change with certainty, climate change has been found to be a significant driver of 21 of the 27 weather disasters of 2016, the hottest year on record. Three of them could not have happened without climate change. This, according to the new peer-reviewed research, published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. So, with extreme weather the new normal, how should we proceed?
JEFFREY SCHLEGELMILCH: The kinds of disasters we’re seeing are indicative of the kinds of extreme events that we would expect to see. Some places are going to get dryer. You’re going to see more droughts. You’re going to see more fires, things like that. Other places are going to get wetter. You’re going to see higher rainfall totals in hurricanes. There’s two sides to this coin. There’s the threat and the changing nature of the threat itself as a result of climate change, and then there’s the hazard, which is how we build ourselves into risk. So, with urban sprawl, if we’re taking an area that is a floodplain and we’re putting a lot of pavement and concrete and reducing a lot of the natural vegetation there that absorbs it or if we’re sprawling out in an area that’s surrounded by beautiful forest but that are getting dryer and dryer, then part of that calculation has to be how we’re going to build more resilient. And that means it’s going to be more expensive to build in the first place, or it’s going to be far, far more expensive to recover after a disaster strikes.
REGGIE JAMES: We also, we need to get off of the cycle of dependency on fossil fuels. So, one of the ways we do that is during the rebuilding effort, every place that we can put in place energy efficiency, reduce the amount of oil and gas needed, change that infrastructure, the real focus has to be on the next time as we’re resolving this time. I can’t overemphasize how important it is for us to learn from this disaster and not think of it as an exception. It’s going to happen again. So, as we are cleaning up this one, we need to be preparing to ensure that the next one doesn’t leave us with as bad or worse problem.