A few months before the 2017 U.S. presidential election, I heard Donald Trump in an interview hedge. He essentially admitted that climate change was real, but then pivoted, saying that if solving climate change hurt the economy, he would pick business over the environment.
Binary thinking—good/bad, love/hate, smartest/dumbest—is typical of Trump and, perhaps, he engages in it because his base can easily grasp on/off concepts.
Leadership, of course, requires a much more complex approach to problem solving. But in this case, given what Mother Nature has wrought over these past few months combined with Trump’s money-focused myopia, shouldn't he be demanding, tweeting, bloviating on behalf of the climate?
Shouldn't the United States' catastrophic economic losses, which were due to weather patterns spawning unprecedented fire and hurricane seasons, inspire even Trump--the man who said, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive"--to embrace, promote, and develop policies, treaties, and technologies designed to roll back the temperatures of our warming planet?
Etched out by economists and prognosticators, some of whom probably voted for Trump, the numbers leave the President with no wiggle room.
According to CBS Evening News’ John Blackstone, the western fires “. . . have destroyed more than 220,000 acres, and 5,700 homes and businesses. More than 90,000 people have been displaced.”
The Dallas News reports that Texas could experience economic losses of between 75 and 90 billion dollars due to Hurricane Harvey.
“Moody's estimates that Hurricanes Irma and Harvey combined caused more than $150 billion in damage after those storms hit major U.S. cities in Texas, Florida and Georgia,” CNN Money reports. As for Puerto Rico, CNN Money goes on to say, “The Moody's estimate says as much as $40 billion could be lost in economic output because of impassable roads and lost power. Property damage could total $55 billion.”
U.S. Virgin Islands delegate to Congress, Rep. Stacey Plaskett told MSNBC, "We've lost practically 70% of our infrastructure in terms of utility system on the island St. Thomas and all of the utility system on the island of St. John." Jewels of American tourism, the U.S. Virgin Islands, like Puerto Rico, have experienced economic losses that will total in the billions.
In a cruel, calculated bid at speaking only about things that seem to matter to the President, I am not including death toll numbers in this blog post. My gut tells me the human cost—lives lost and the suffering of survivors—don’t enter into his mental calculations.
Money is his language.
So let's talk. Those in power, those who have his ear? I want you to lean in real close and whisper hard enough he feels your breath against his skin, as you ask the following questions.
- How much more environmental chaos can the economy afford?
- What happens to local, state, and federal economies if the extreme weather extends into winter?
- What happens to those same economies if next year’s hurricane and fire seasons are even close in terms of economic devastation to 2017?
- What about the costs of climate-change related health problems skyrocketing, especially in what appears to be a new era of no affordable health care?
And finally, power boys, I want you to ask him this: How long can we go on behaving as if it’s Economy First, when climate change promises to destroy our economic systems and when behind every number we see, there is a human face?