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Editorial: Stronger hurricanes, worsened wildfires, record heat — the climate warnings march on

Baltimore Sun Editorial Board, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Op Eds

After a stifling hot July that saw 25 days of 90-degree-plus weather -- breaking a record that stood for nearly a century and a half -- August swept into Maryland with tornadoes and torrential rain from Tropical Storm Isaias. While severe weather is not a new phenomenon, experts warn that this pattern of stronger, wetter hurricanes and tropical storms, and longer stretches of high temperatures in the summer, is likely a product of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

And it's far from the only sign that there's a fundamental shift going on: A report released last week suggests rising seas caused by climate change mean the risk of flooding is headed much further inland than it has in the past with more than $14 trillion in assets put at risk.

If climate change just meant cranking up the air conditioning in July or vacating flood-prone areas in August, that would be one thing, but it's far more devastating than that. The report on coastal flooding published in Scientific Reports, for example, cites the Northeast United States as one of the world's most vulnerable regions as flood areas expand between now and the end of the century.

What amounts to a human-made carbon dioxide blanket around the world inevitably leads to hotter, wetter and more extreme weather. And the consequences of that are expected to lead to reduced crops and food shortages, loss of biodiversity, increased poverty and social upheaval and wild fires like the still-raging Apple fire that is consuming 42 square miles in Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains. Cutting emissions, reducing carbon levels, and adapting to a changing world are humanity's best strategies for softening the blow. But there's also a fourth strategy that ought to be pursued: fighting disinformation.

One of the tragedies likely to echo far into the future is the manner in which climate change has become, instead of a widely accepted scientific theory about which an estimated 97% of experts agree, a matter to be twisted and distorted by polluters and others who seek financial or political gain. Just one week ago, President Donald Trump traveled to Midland, Texas, to pledge his fealty to the oil and gas producers and warn that "zealots, radicals and extremists trying to shut down your industry" will not be successful.

That President Trump's willful disregard for climate change science isn't new doesn't make it any less dangerous. Nor is it the only science he disavows. While in Texas, Trump held a fundraiser where he was photographed not wearing a mask nor keeping recommended social distancing. And this was just hours after mask-averse Rep. Louie Gohmert was booted from the same trip because of a positive COVID-19 test. There's a lesson not learned. One presumes there's considerable crossover between the mask-refusing crowd and the climate change deniers.

Over and over again, the Trump administration has chosen the wrong path on climate, and the cost of this could prove considerable. As much as we've cheered states like Maryland as well as cities and corporations for stepping up and attempting to reduce emissions on their own, there are limits to how much can be done at the local level, particularly when it comes to forging international agreements. The more needed actions are delayed, the worse the consequences and the harsher the remedies.

 

President Trump is harming our children's future so that certain special interests can profit today. The shame is that he and his enablers may not be around when the bill comes due for acidic oceans, drought and flood-damaged infrastructure, human plagues worsened by extreme weather and loss of drinkable water. Maryland's relatively strong performance in reducing carbon emissions -- a new report by the World Resources Institute credits the state with a U.S.-best 38% drop over a 12-year period ending in 2017 -- is easily thwarted by bad climate policy by others.

The Mid-Atlantic may not get smacked by another Isaias-level storm this season and 90-degree weather surely won't extend until Nov. 3 but that's still an important date in forecasting. It's the day Americans can do something truly meaningful about climate change by casting a ballot to kick the current Oval Office inhabitant out into the cold without delay. Even past Republican presidents and party nominees from Ronald Reagan on were willing to acknowledge that climate change is real and worrisome.

Trump has been a disaster in this regard as is his broader contempt for science that has helped raise the COVID-19 death tally to 150,000 and counting which is horrific but trails the estimated 250,000 deaths caused annually by climate change, according to a 2019 analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine. At least it's the most hopeful sign of relief in sight.

(c)2020 The Baltimore Sun

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