The federal government has now confirmed what you probably already felt:
July was the hottest month measured on Earth since records began in 1880, the latest in a long line of peaks that scientists say backs up predictions for man-made climate change.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that July was 0.95 degrees Celsius (1.71 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 20th century average of 15.8 C (60.4 F) for the month.
Because July is generally the warmest month on the calendar, meteorologists say this means it also set a new all-time monthly record for the past 140 years.
On the bright side, if President Trump buys Greenland, he’ll be able to put a bunch of golf courses and beachside resorts there.
If only this were really a joking matter. Unfortunately, amidst the daily flood of horrors emanating from the Trump administration, most people are probably unaware that Trump has done more to set back efforts to fight climate change than any president before him.
Here’s just some of what Trump has done: He pulled out of the Paris climate accord. He appointed a coal lobbyist to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. He created a panel, headed by a notorious climate-change denier, to discredit the climate judgments of federal agencies. He populated his administration with other climate-change deniers. He attempted to undermine the government’s own National Climate Assessment. He dramatically scaled back enforcement of pollution laws. He made it easier for energy companies to pour methane into the air. He moved to roll back regulations on emissions from coal-fired power plants. He tried to persuade automakers to produce less fuel-efficient cars. He even scrubbed references to climate change from government websites.
Of course, when I use the word “he,” I actually mean Trump’s administration, ostensibly acting on his behalf and in accord with his wishes. The truth, however, is a little more complicated. Trump himself is certainly inclined toward climate-change denial (he has called it a hoax created by the Chinese), probably because of some combination of resentment toward scientists, conspiratorial thinking and sheer stupidity. On the other hand, there’s no reason to think it’s something he particularly cares about; the only policy issues he seems to have genuine opinions on are trade and immigration.
But the people he has appointed most certainly do have opinions. And their opinion is that protecting the environment is bad, and we should do everything in our power to increase carbon emissions and accelerate climate change.
That might sound like a caricature of their beliefs, but what other conclusion are we to draw when looking at their works?
As has happened in so many areas, on climate Trump has turned out to be an even more conservative president than anyone, Democrat or Republican, predicted. The reason, as I have argued before, is that his indifference to policy, his relentless focus on pleasing his base, and the fact that he is such a corrupt and morally repellent figure create a deadly combination. Because reputable Republicans won’t work for him, his administration is staffed by grifters and ideological extremists; members of the latter group understand that as long as they don’t draw too much media attention to themselves, he’ll let them do pretty much whatever they want. He doesn’t care about the practical consequences of their decisions, and he isn’t worried about alienating the majority of the country that would find those decisions appalling.
Amongst Washington’s savvy reporters, it’s generally believed that climate change isn’t an important electoral issue, unlike the economy or health care or whatever culture-war flash point Republicans have chosen to ignite. But while that might have been true at one time, it isn’t anymore.
Recent polls have shown climate change to be among the most important issues to Democratic voters in particular, while ideas such as investments in green energy get wide support even among independents and Republicans. Which is one reason that most of the Democratic presidential candidates have released plans for action on climate (I summarized them here). They also seem to sincerely believe that this is an emergency.
While some of those plans are more comprehensive than others and there are differences between them, there may be no issue on which voters will face a clearer choice next November. Whoever the Democratic nominee is, that person will propose rejoining the rest of the world in seeking to limit emissions, promoting cleaner sources of energy, investing in a wide variety of green projects, and more generally making climate change a priority for the next four years.
Trump, on the other hand, will propose making climate change worse, even as natural disasters multiply and the world gets warmer and warmer. The voters will have to decide which of those paths they want to take.