Harvey, Irma Highlight Need to Address Climate Change

Nathan Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief

Over the past weeks, evidence has mounted that the future of the world with respect to climate change is bleak. In the United States alone, Houston and Florida have been leveled at the hands of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively. Other tropical storms have veered off at the last moment, barely missing land. While avoiding these additional disasters has doubtlessly saved lives, there is still little cause for hope.

The reality is that the state of the environment is declining sharply and rapidly, and the consequences of that deterioration are severe. If effective action is going to be taken on climate change, it must be taken now — assuming that our window has not already closed.

It was terrifying, then, when Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt said last Thursday that the time in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s landfall was not an appropriate moment to talk about climate change.

“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,” Pruitt said in an interview.

Pruitt’s hypocrisy was immediately apparent. Unless the causes of tropical storms like Hurricane Irma are addressed with clarity and strength, then the needs of the people displaced, hurt, or killed by natural disasters will gradually become impossible to meet, and death tolls will continue to rise.

This is the harsh reality of climate change, and it is a reality that more and more people in the U.S. and around the world are coming to terms with every day.

However, even as awareness ever so gradually climbs among the general population, our leaders continue to freeze. They do so for a variety of reasons — from being paid off by the fossil fuel industry to plain ignorance — but, ultimately, the reason for their inaction is less devastatingly consequential than their inaction itself.

There is no longer any time to debate climate change, if there ever was. There is no room for false equivalencies, for claims that we should hear both sides.

There is a very real danger that meaningful progress on climate change will go the way of gun control reform in the United States: those in government, particularly Republicans, becoming apparently content to suffer greater and greater outrages until no tragedy could be so great as to spur change. They choose the interests of businesses and industries over the needs of people who need clean air more than they need another dollar in a billionaire’s pocket.

Legislators decided that the ability to own a gun was more compelling than the murder of 20 children in a school in Newtown, CT. Now the possibility of gun control reform in the U.S. seems nearly dead. The question of the hour, then, is what event — if any — will be significant enough to compel action on climate change? What will it take for us to acknowledge all together that the threat of climate change is one of the most immediate and pressing of our time?

Scott Pruitt — the man who is supposed to be leading the effort to keep our environment clean and sustainable, the man who refuses to answer the question above — is dangerous. It is truly pernicious to suggest that the causes of a disaster like Hurricane Irma should not be discussed immediately in its wake. Evidence continues to mount that, as more of these increasingly devastating storms tear apart countries across the world, deaths at the hands of “natural” disasters are, more than anything else, the fault of unsustainable human civilization.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of how many people have been killed by climate change — at least with the tools currently available to us. It is likely that the hundreds of people killed by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma alone would be on that list. Any discussion of the needs of the survivors must include a clear and effective plan to combat climate change, not falsely compassionate platitudes about caring for those in need.

We are all in need of help right now, some to a greater degree than others, because we all live in this world together. Shame on Scott Pruitt and anybody else who intentionally stands in the way of creating a sustainable future.