Climate change and all its troubles — wildfires, droughts, flash floods and extreme storms — once were a matter of theory.
Now they’re playing out in real time.
Eighteen wildfires are burning across California. One fire sparked two weeks ago by the rim of a truck scraping against a highway has scorched 121,000 acres, destroying 1,564 buildings and killing six people.
Temperatures are searing on the West Coast, where Death Valley hit a record 108 degrees last month. The Northeast recently experienced record rainfalls. Norway and Sweden hit record temperatures of 90 degrees at the Arctic Circle last week. Wildfires have destroyed towns in Greece.
Bad weather happens, but not like this. Not so broadly, constantly and extremely. The clear cause is man-made global warming, almost all credible scientists say, and it’s only going to get worse.
Why, then, is the Trump administration so dead-set on doing nothing about it? Why, on the contrary, is the administration going out of its way to make matters worse?
On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it intends to roll back the single most effective federal policy for limiting climate change. It will freeze miles-per-gallon standards for cars and light trucks after the 2020 model year, no longer requiring that the standards be improved in future years. The administration also is working to prohibit California from setting more stringent standards.
The Trump administration’s move is a short-sighted gift to automakers such as GM and Chrysler that have failed to achieve strong fuel economies. It threatens sales for automakers such as Honda and Toyota, which already are beating the current the fuel standards, and Tesla, which makes zero-emission electric vehicles.
The administration says, implausibly, that this is about saving lives. Freezing miles-per-gallon standards will make cars more affordable, so the logic goes, which means more people will buy new cars equipped with latest safety features. The EPA predicts 1,000 lives a year will be saved, though it won’t reveal how it came up with that figure.
This might be a compelling argument if the rate of traffic fatalities in the United States had not steadily declined for the last 50 years, even as fuel efficiency standards improved. In 1966, 26 people were killed in vehicle accidents for every 100,000 Americans. Twenty years later, the rate was 19 people killed. Thirty years after that, the rate had dropped below 12.
The pathetic truth is that the Trump administration has never accepted the reality of climate change, though there is little doubt of it among the overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists. The EPA has scrubbed mentions of climate change from its website, and its acting director, Andrew Wheeler, is a former energy industry lobbyist who worked to weaken the regulation of fossil fuels.
The EPA’s true motivation in freezing fuel efficiency standards is to do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. That’s where Wheeler came from, and to which he will return. It also is a continuance of the Trump administration’s spiteful effort to roll back every policy and program of the Obama administration.
It took a modicum of political courage for the Obama administration to set the current miles-per-gallon standards. Nobody wants to pay more for a car. But if we care about the world we leave our children, it was the right thing to do.
Better fuel efficiency standards also save drivers money at the gas pump. Under the Obama rule, according to a Bloomberg News analysis, by 2025 the average vehicle would burn 401 gallons of gasoline to go a typical distance in one year of 15,000 miles. Under the Trump proposal, that would increase to about 507 gallons. If you figure $3 a gallon for gas, the average motorist would spend an extra $318 a year.
True conservatives, which is what Donald Trump claims to be, find the self-discipline to sacrifice today for a better life tomorrow. They invest in the stock market. They save for retirement. They get by on less now for more later.
Yet when it comes to protecting our environment and natural world for future generations, we see no self-discipline or sacrifice.
The kids will get nothing.
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