Steve Rose

The clock is running out for our climate in a leadership vacuum

In this June 20, 2017 file photo, a local temperature sign reads 120-degrees Fahrenheit as temperatures climb to near-record highs in Phoenix.
In this June 20, 2017 file photo, a local temperature sign reads 120-degrees Fahrenheit as temperatures climb to near-record highs in Phoenix. AP

If this were the very last column of my entire life — as some nemeses undoubtedly wish it were — I would spend these final words pleading with all my readers to immediately panic over the catastrophic consequences of the human-caused climate change that is already upon us and getting much worse.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment was just released, warning of the cataclysmic events that climate change will bring to our nation and the world by 2050. Closer to home, for a variety of reasons, the Weather Channel Climate Disruption Index has identified Kansas City as fifth among 25 cities in the nation to feel the adverse impacts of climate change.

Even climate change denier President Donald Trump could not totally ignore the findings in this 1,000-page report, issued by numerous federal agencies within his own administration. Rather than dismiss the findings of the many preeminent American scientists, he did the next worst thing: Trump reportedly required that the results of this massive study be released on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when almost nobody is watching or reading the news. It was a very clever move by a shrewd man.

To sabotage the study even more, Trump not only buried the news. He also chose that time to render headlines on different controversial subject of comparatively almost no consequence, but one that stirs up more immediate passion than climate change. He tweeted over Thanksgiving weekend that he was requesting the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether transgender Americans should be prohibited from serving in the armed forces, where thousands of transgender troops already serve their country.

It is not just Trump who has changed the subject. It seems like almost all Americans — including those who firmly believe in human-caused climate change — have chosen to ignore or dismiss the topic. It seldom comes up in polls as a key issue that people are worried about. It may be just too overwhelming.

But the dire consequences are already happening, according to the federal study. The oceans are rising, and in the coming years our coastlines will be permanently altered. It predicts beachfront property values will collapse. Droughts, which we already are seeing with more regularity, will worsen. Wildfires will devour larger areas. Treacherous hurricanes will be more frequent and more devastating. There will be outbreaks of dangerous diseases as temperatures climb.

Much of the nation is already experiencing record high temperatures almost every year. The study implores us to reverse course. Scientists say we have wasted 15 years of response time, and that things will be much worse if another five years go by without addressing climate change.

But nothing will get done at least for the next two years, and perhaps six. Our current president will do nothing to help reverse or minimize the unfolding tragedy. In fact, unbelievably, he is taking America in the opposite direction, calling it a “hoax” and deregulating

environmental protections.

Trump argues that the idea of human-caused climate change is a conspiracy by liberals who want to tax and spend on so-called fixes, which would only slow down the economy. Ironically, for the first time, scientists involved in this in-depth study estimate that climate change will cause the nation’s economy to shrink by a disastrous 10 percent over the next 30 years.

The American people — and therefore the developed world — have the capacity to rally, under the right leadership. They need their leader to sound the alarm, and they will respond. But alas, we hear nothing but mockery from our president.

Donald Trump will go down in history as the key world figure who sealed the planet’s fate as the world cried out for bold leadership. No matter what else he does, for good or bad, this will be his legacy. But that does not leave the American people off the hook. They are sadly complicit in silently damning suffering generations to come. They are even damning themselves, because the catastrophes have already started on their watch.