America argues over climate change

Not long after President Donald Trump appointed climate change deniers to the country’s highest posts was the country hit by the strongest hurricane ever. Even the Republican mayor of Miami finds himself at odds with the climate change sceptics. John Dyer reports from Boston.

Donald Trump and many of his Republican allies refuse to recognize climate change, despite the country being hit by the worst hurricane ever. (Image credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, oil industry ally Scott Pruitt, said last week that it would be “insensitive” to discuss climate change as Texans and Floridians were coping with the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm, versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced,” said Pruitt after Harvey struck Texas and while Irma was bearing down on Florida.

But now that Irma has moved on to Georgia, Pruitt still isn’t acknowledging that role of climate change in the twin natural disasters.

President Donald Trump has yet to discuss climate change either as he negotiates with Congress over tens of billions of dollars to fund recovery efforts in the two regions. Neither will the Republican governors of Texas and Florida though Florida Governor Rick Scott at least admitted that Irma was the state’s worst natural disaster in history.

Miami’s mayor is furious

Their silence is infuriating Miami’s mayor Tomás Regalado, a Republican who leads a left-leaning city.

“This is the time to talk about climate change,” said Regalado on Monday after Hurricane Irma moved north to Georgia, leaving at least 11 dead, millions without electricity and billions of dollars’ worth of property damage.

“This is the time that the president and the EPA and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change. If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is. This is a truly, truly poster child for what is to come.”

Harvey and Irma have sparked a conversation about climate change denial in the U.S. With Hurricane Katrina demolishing New Orleans in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy flooding New York City and pounding the New Jersey shore in 2012, Americans have now witnessed four major cities swamped in the last 12 years.

Yet American leaders like Trump, Pruitt, Scott and others have resisted taking action to protect cities from rising seawaters, stronger storms and other signs of climate change. Instead, they’ve redoubled efforts to increase drilling and fracking oil and natural gas, even though low energy price make those activities less profitable than ever.

Trump hasn’t changed his mind

On the campaign trail, Trump said that climate change was a Chinese-perpetrated hoax. A few months ago, he withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement, a deal that nearly every other country has joined in order to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Asked on Monday if the hurricanes had changed the president’s view, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said no. “I don’t think that it’s changed over the last several weeks,” she said during a press conference.

In the same appearance with reporters, White House Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert bizarrely recognized more intense weather patterns but ignored why those patterns were occurring.

“Causality is outside of my ability to analyse right now,” said Bossert. “I will tell you that we continue to take seriously: climate change, not the cause of it, but the things that we observe.”

Florida’s governor disbanded climate committee

Those views have consequences, said environmentalist Kathy Baughman McLeod, who was a member of the Florida Energy and Climate Commission that Florida Governor Scott disbanded in 2011. Scott has done little to nothing to prepare the Sunshine State for hurricanes like Irma, she said.

“The science has been brought on a silver platter to Governor Scott, and he’s chosen not to do anything,” said McLeod. “If there is climate action, it’s all coming from local and regional collaboration. There is no state leadership on climate change in Florida, period.”

At the behest of Florida energy utilities, Scott has blocked efforts to build mass-scale solar power generation in the state, too, she added.

“Sensitive, but not stupid”

It’s not clear if Trump and other leaders will push for Texas, Florida and other states to rebuild with climate change in mind.

But in states like New York and New Jersey, where politicians recognize the dangers of climate change, rules curbing rebuilding in flood-prone areas have come under fire by homeowners who want life to return to normal.

Leonard Berry, an independent environmentalist who was formerly director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, said he hoped Harvey and Irma would provide the incentive for American policymakers to figure out how to rebuild smartly while keeping people happy.

“Immediately afterward we’ve got to say ‘Come on guys, let’s really see if this is a harbinger of the future,’” he said. “It clearly is to those of us who have looked even generally at the issue. One should be sensitive, but not stupid.”

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