Trump and Nukes are Scary. But His Danger to the Climate Is Worse.

There has been a lot of focus on the danger of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Donald Trump, a man who seems genuinely confused about why he wouldn’t be allowed to use them. Rightly so, of course: the greatest threat to human civilization and all life on earth remains nuclear annihilation, and all it takes to precipitate armageddon is for a major arsenal to fall into the hands of a madman.

That said, the second greatest danger to civilization and life on planet Earth remains climate change. Unfortunately, the spectacle of the presidential campaign has served to push some terrifying climate change-related headlines to the back pages when they should be three-alarm front page news.

The world is warming even faster than the already-parabolic rate climate scientists were expecting. The Arctic is thawing at unprecedented alarming rates. We are in the fifteenth straight month of record-breaking global temperatures. Climate change is having bizarre and unexpected consequences like releasing permafrost anthrax and Cold-War era toxic waste.

In short, we are learning that the consequences of climate change are far more dire and happening faster than we expected, which is starting to become an old refrain.

The world is careening towards an environment never experienced before by humans, with the temperature of the air and oceans breaking records, sea levels reaching historic highs and carbon dioxide surpassing a key milestone, a major international report has found.

The “state of the climate” report, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) with input from hundreds of scientists from 62 countries, confirmed there was a “toppling of several symbolic mileposts” in heat, sea level rise and extreme weather in 2015.

“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” Michael Mann, a leading climatologist at Penn State, told the Guardian. “They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home.”

Very few countries are doing remotely enough about the problem, locked as we are into an outdated competitive Westphalian system where no individual country wants to put their own economy at a disadvantage compared to others. Thus we get climate agreements that take weak and far-too-slow steps toward a problem that is has already accelerated to a global crisis.

That said, President Obama has been aggressive in tackling climate change in many important ways, including efforts at energy conservation both great and small. His administration has pursued dozens of rules and regulations designed to quietly reduce emissions in spite of a Republican Congress that not only refuses to do something about climate change, but remains steadfastly ignorant about the problem at all.

In this respect, Donald Trump doesn’t represent a greater threat to climate security than almost any other Republican would have been: even the mainstream GOP is dangerously reckless in ignoring our climate crisis. But Trump is a willfully ignorant climate denier who actively campaigns on drilling more oil faster. Four to eight years of a Trump presidency could easily lock in temperature rises that could without exaggeration reach levels that doom human civilization within a couple of generations.

That is an unacceptable outcome. Donald Trump and the GOP wouldn’t need to launch a single nuclear warhead to destroy life on earth as we know it. All they would need is to implement the energy policy they are openly advertising to voters.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.