Science Meets Magical Thinking

By Tricia Holser

Test your global warming knowledge: according to reputable scientists, climate change has caused:

  1.    Lengthening of the U.S. wildfire season (now three and a half months longer than several decades ago)
  2.    Clouds of Saharan dust drifting across the Atlantic and blanketing many states in the south
  3.    Swarms of locusts invading India
  4.    A record high temperature of 100.4 degrees in the Arctic Circle
  5.    All of the above

The correct answer is “all of the above.” The consequences of climate change are wide-ranging and easy to spot. Climate scientists generally agree that time is running out to reverse the damage.

The Trump administration’s hostility to acknowledging and addressing climate change, is making things much worse. Since taking office, Trump has initiated regulatory rollbacks that ignore science and severely impact public health, the economy and the environment. Examples include the administration’s dismantling of the Clean Power Plan, loosening of car and truck emissions standards, and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump continues to aggressively undermine environmental protections.

Republicans unveiled their plan in February. While the House GOP climate platform emphasizes “carbon capture” technology, the proposal that is attracting the most attention is the planting of a trillion trees worldwide. President Trump backs this idea, which, looked at from a cost-benefit point of view, represents a relatively inexpensive political fix with a high reward: it appeals to both young and old conservatives and doesn’t involve cutting fossil fuel consumption. Bonus: it isn’t too “science-y.”

Democrats are fighting back. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) recently announced a package of climate proposals featuring government mandates, tax incentives and new infrastructure. The plan mandates electric utilities be net-zero emitters of greenhouse gases by 2040 and that automakers produce only electric cars by 2035. It would increase energy efficiency in buildings, place a price on carbon emissions and impose tougher methane limits. The tax credit for electric vehicles would be expanded and solar and wind tax credits extended through 2025.

This plan could be extremely popular. A national survey by Pew Research Center this spring shows 79% of Americans believe the government should prioritize developing alternative energy sources. A majority report that they see the effects of climate change in their own communities. Clearly, this issue resonates. The next step is getting the word out and making sure voters understand the chasm that separates the Democrats’ reasoned, science-based approach to reducing the impacts of climate change and the magical thinking of the GOP.

Those who want faster progress in moving away from fossil fuels, as well as those who feel that GOP were insufficiently included in the planning process, have criticized the proposal. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that the plan has no chance of enactment in the current Congress. However, it sets a benchmark for what is possible when the Democrats gain back control.