Orange Alert

Maybe Donald Trump had better things to do that morning.

Perhaps the science-scorning scoundrel would have learned something 35 years ago today, if he had read the report in the New York Times about the crisis that would threaten his city three decades later in the form of Superstorm Sandy–a crisis he would shamefully deny in his presidential campaign:

Mankind’s activities in increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other chemicals in the atmosphere can be expected to have a substantial warming effect on climate, with the first clear signs of the trend becoming evident within this decade, a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said here today.

The changes are in prospect because of excess carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere as humans burn coal, gas, oil and wood and cut forests for agriculture and other purposes. More recently there has also been an atmospheric buildup of methane, nitrous oxide and other chemicals as a result of agriculture and industry, said Dr. James Hansen of the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Dr. Hansen spoke at a session of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here and amplified some of his remarks at a news conference.

Who would have thought, three and a half decades later, that significant portions of the United States electorate, and indeed an entire cable news network, would embrace the idea that human-caused climate change was a just a hoax, despite clear evidence of the threat? Yes, back then, President Reagan had his own anti-science nutjobs in charge at the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, but at least those clowns were gone before the end of his first term–and although Reagan himself came into office spewing offensive anti-science remarks, even he had to back down somewhat in terms of both rhetoric and policy.

Does anyone think that Trump will ever back down in a similar manner? I wouldn’t hold my breath. Fox News wasn’t around when Reagan was president; the right-wing media infrastructure of the 1980s was nowhere near as powerful back then as it is now. It’s horrifying to think that historians may rank Reagan a better president on the environment than Trump, but it’s likely to happen.

Speaking of presidential leadership on the environment, it was infuriating to see Hansen recently trash President Obama’s accomplishments in this regard:

I would give him a D [overall]. You know, he’s saying the right words, but he had a golden opportunity. When he had control of both houses of Congress and a 70 percent approval rating, he could have done something strong on climate in the first term – but he would have had to be a different personality than he is. He would have to have taken the FDR approach of explaining things to the American public with his “fireside chats,” and he would have had to work with Congress, which he didn’t do.

You know, the liberal approach of subsidizing solar panels and windmills gets you a few percent of the energy, but it doesn’t phase you off fossil fuels, and it never will. No matter how much you subsidize them, intermittent renewables are not sufficient to replace fossil fuels. So he did a few things that were useful, but it’s not the fundamental approach that’s needed.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. How, exactly, was Obama supposed to work with Congress on climate in his first term after deniers took over the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections? It’s one thing to quibble with Obama’s decision to prioritize the Affordable Care Act while Democrats still controlled the House in 2009 and 2010, but does that really justify giving Obama a “D” on this issue? When one looks at everything Obama has done on climate and the environment over the course of his eight years as President–from stronger fuel-economy standards to the Clean Power Plan to nominating pro-science judges to the United States Supreme Court–how can one rationally give him a “D”?

Hansen’s scorn of Obama notwithstanding, historians will look at the 44th President and see a man who did all that he could to protect this planet for future generations. They will then look at the 45th President and vomit.