Former DOJ Prosecutor Writes Op Ed Entitled "Death By Trump"

 (The author, Craig Benedict, is a retired federal prosecutor who specialized in environmental crimes. He received many EPA and Justice Department awards for his work including for outstanding career service.) 

   Death By Trump

     The entire world now knows that Donald Trump presents himself in grandiose terms. His narcissism leads him to describe nearly everything he does as the biggest, the most beautiful, most successful ever. Many people find it exhausting to listen to him brag, but in this reaction there is danger: we become inured to his false statements. This occurrence has a most unfortunate history. During World War II, the German government perfected the theory of The Big Lie. The government understood that if they told their people something truly outrageous, the populous over time would generally accepted that at least part of it had to be true. The underlying concepts were make it big, keep it simple, and keep repeating it. 


     While only in office a short time, the number of Trump’s presidential whoppers is remarkable. Reporters maintain a running list of demonstrably false statements that, periodically, The New York Times publishes. (Google “Trump’s Lies,” and see.) Yet there is one matter where our 45th President could do something truly beyond the normal superlatives he lavishes upon himself. He could have an outsize role in saving much of humanity and the planet.  


     To do so, Trump does not need to engage in some Hollywood-esque feat. Rather, he need only keep our nation in the Paris Climate Change Accord and then encourage our already well-underway technological advancements in renewable energies.  If he does little more, the United States can profit from the seven trillion dollars the 2017 Blumberg New Energy Finance report calculates will be expended in just the next two decades as the world invests in, and transitions to, renewable resources. Sundry projections out to 2050 show this figure dramatically increasing, with immense savings in energy, health, and infrastructure costs. Think of it, regardless of whether you personally believe in climate change, 195 nations on the planet (all but Syria and Nicaragua) have signed onto the Paris Accord because their governments accept it is real. Leaders of virtually every nation have committed their countries to take action to reduce greenhouse gases, including through reduced reliance on fossil fuels. The profits available to whichever technologically advanced nations lead the world in producing, installing, and maintaining solar, wind, and other renewable power sources will be staggering. And the skills to lead this venture are directly within the American wheelhouse. Or, because he never acknowledges he is wrong, President Trump can continue to assert that climate change is a Chinese hoax, and let other advanced nations vacuum up vast sums of money that will cause their economies to boom while we lose out on realizing a share of this fortune.


     Unfortunately, Trump has political support on this topic. Views about climate change have become tribalized. The Democratic tribe asserts climate change is real, the Republican tribe does not. Loyalty to one’s tribe increasingly requires acceptance or rejection of this underlying premise. Yet science and reason overwhelmingly support one side of the debate. Ardent climate change deniers advance the notion that climatologists have conspired to mislead the world. Such a conspiracy would be unparelleled in human history. The notion that for decades thousands of renown experts from countries all around the planet – many who do not even know each other – have all acted in concert to falsify their studies and fool the entire world is an absurdity.  


     Regardless, the regulatory functions of Earth do not care a wit about human politics. Commentators often breathlessly proclaim that the environment is in danger from climate change. Such a view represents a fundamental misunderstanding. Earth’s environment is almost indestructible. It has survived eons of powerful physical forces – cosmic radiation, volcanic eruptions, collisions with meteors leading to mass extinctions, fluctuations of the sun, and the geologic movement of continents. But one component of Earth’s ecological makeup is genuinely delicate: those limited set of environmental conditions favorable to our form of life. Should we continue to ravage the atmosphere with unrestrained greenhouse gas emissions, and hence alter those favorable conditions, we will fundamentally damage the habitability Earth affords humankind. 


     In endeavoring to meet the challenge posed by climate change, our species has a severe limitation, one that we would be well advised to keep in mind. We react quickly to immediate threats – fight or flight – but do a poor job with regard to slowly emerging dangers, even profound ones. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is comprised of hundreds of the world’s foremost climatologists. Panel members have painstakingly reviewed virtually all climate change studies produced over decades, including those generated by experts within countries that have great economic interests in continued coal and oil production. The IPCC has explained that these collective studies reach an overwhelming consensus: climate change is real, it is caused principally by human activities, and the world has as little as fifteen years to dramatically reduce ongoing greenhouse gas emissions or adverse consequences will be locked into Earth’s regulatory systems. Once emitted into the atmosphere, the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, remains suspended for up to centuries, and new emissions combine with old to increase the cumulative heat trapping impact. We cannot outwait a Trump Administration because the science shows we are now at the tipping point. We need to immediately begin the painstaking process of reducing emissions. Years of prodigious new emissions will place us past the point where we can catch up through greater reductions a few decades from now.  


   There are many unfavorable outcomes that will accrue from climate change: storms of much greater intensity; damage to our ability to produce food; greater and longer lasting heat waves; migration of communicable tropical diseases into more populated areas; melting permafrost that will release copious methane and significantly enhance warming; the acidification of our oceans; and the collapse of fish populations; the destruction of northern forests by migrating beetles and the attendant carbon release as billions of dead trees rot; etc. Recent hurricanes of unusual intensity (Harvey, Irma, Maria) are precisely of the nature that scientists forewarned. More and worse is coming. But another even greater threat to overall human wellbeing will emerge from natural calamities related to climate change.  


     The United States Military is increasingly concerned about climate conditions that have the ability to disrupt societies around the world. Global warming is melting ice – a measurable, mathematical fact – at an extraordinary rate. Greenland and Antartic ice melt increases ocean levels. And, global warming of oceans expands their volumes, adding further to sea level rise. Around the world, more than 600 hundred million people live at or near sea level. Many large cities exist within these low-lying areas, including within the United States: New York, Miami, Los Angles, San Diego, New Orleans, Boston, Charleston, Seattle, and Honolulu. Absent prompt action starting now, rising sea levels will ultimately inundate low-lying areas around the globe. Every continent will be impacted. This means that hundreds of millions of people will migrate, leading to, with near certainty, profound civil unrest and the potential for war across the planet. In financial terms alone, the costs of lost cities will be impossible for humanity to absorb. If President Trump thinks controlling borders is a national security problem now, wait until his actions gift to a future U.S. president and other world leaders hundreds of millions of people fleeing their homes. Will every nation seek to build a wall? 


     So, are you someone who is under 50, or do you or will you have children or grandchildren? Many people presently take a more relaxed view of climate change because they do not feel they have been personally impacted. But you and yours will be. President Trump and the non-experts he has placed in leadership positions at the EPA to facilitate his predetermined, false narrative must be resisted. We are not in safe hands and the problem cannot be resolved later. Death by Trump will be our own fault.