Thanks to decades of willful human neglect of the existential and century-scale consequences of transforming the chemical composition of our atmosphere, our skies are now warmer and hold more water vapor, causing scenes like this around the world. Including Monday, three of the rainiest July days in D.C. history have happened in the past three years.
If you trust scientists, which is something it’s not clear this president does, recent conclusions are stark: The fossil fuel infrastructure the world has already built is enough to commit us to warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the agreed-upon climate point of no return, if it’s used for as long as it was originally designed for. Shutting down the fossil fuel industry is the only way to preserve a livable world. To do that, any true environmental leader would have to build a culture that believes a fossil-fuel-free world is not only possible, but essential to ensure a thriving human civilization in the 21st century.
Trump has done the opposite. He didn’t even use the word “climate” once in his entire speech, except to refer to his decision to alienate the international community and withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
The climate emergency is clearly a special environmental problem — it poses an existential threat not only to the American way of life, but to all life. The United States is the country with the most historical emissions of any nation on the planet. You would think an American president who professes to be a leader on the environment would recognize the increasingly urgent and obvious reality of climate disasters.
But Trump does not live in our reality.
Instead, his speech touted “pro-growth policies” under his watch that have made America a net exporter of natural gas. “A strong economy is vital to maintaining a healthy environment,” Trump said. “We will defend the environment, but we will also defend American sovereignty, American prosperity, and we will defend American jobs.”
In the speech, Trump said that U.S. air pollution is now six times lower than the global average. But the Environmental Protection Agency’s own data showed that the most important measures of air pollution have actually risen during Trump’s time in office, at least partly due to record-setting wildfires in the West.
These are the facts, no matter whether Trump chooses to pretend otherwise. Fortunately, the American people are not fooled: A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that just 29 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of climate change, the lowest approval rating for any major issue surveyed.
On our current trajectory, with Trump’s leadership, the world is on course to warm by as much as 3.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That would produce unthinkable consequences that threaten civilization as we know it. Avoiding such a fate requires, in the words of climate scientists, “transformational change” in “all aspects of society.” This is what true leadership in this moment requires: Admitting that radical change is now inevitable, and it’s up to us to turn the course of history.