With the nation poised to hear President Donald Trump report on the state of the union, the state of our environment is imperiled — largely by Trump himself.
We’ve just wrapped up the four hottest years since global record-keeping began in 1880, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports, with average temperatures in Kansas City last year soaring 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit above the 30-year average.
By the time Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria combined with western wildfires and other extreme weather and climate-related disasters to inflict a record $306 billion in damage across the country last year, Missourians had already suffered epic storms and flooding that left five dead, shut down Interstate 44 and caused the closure of 14 1/2 miles of the Mississippi River.
What we’re seeing outside our kitchen windows is a glimpse of global climate disorder in a year when entire species are dying off at the fastest rate in 60 million years, the Great Barrier Reef is dying and an iceberg the size of Delaware broke off the great Antarctic ice shelf.
The message could not be more clear. After raising atmospheric carbon dioxide to its highest concentration in 3 million years — up more than 40 percent from pre-industrial levels — we’re cooking the only planet we have. It’s time to cut the fossil fuel use that’s driving carbon pollution and shift to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.
We’re making real progress.
We cut our carbon footprint in this country 14 percent between 2005 and 2016, while our economy grew an inflation-adjusted 17 percent. We did it largely by investing in efficiency, so we do more with less waste; building some of the best all-electric and hybrid cars anywhere; and getting more clean power from the wind and sun.
Trump wants to turn back the clock on the gains we’re making — and turn his back on the growing dangers of climate change. He wants to pull U.S. participation from the 2015 Paris climate accord, which gathers China, India, Mexico and more than 190 other countries around real plans to cut carbon pollution. In a triumph of American leadership, we did what’s right for our people at home and got the rest of the world on board. Why on Earth would we walk away from that?
He’s exposing more and more of our public lands to the hazard and harm of fossil fuel production — stripping away needed protections from millions of acres of lands in places like the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
Just this month, he opened nearly every coastal community in the country to the risk of the next BP-style disaster, with a proposal to provide gas and oil companies access to the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico — waters long off-limits to oil and gas drilling.
And he’s trying to kill the Clean Power Plan, which calls on states to work with their regional power companies to find the most cost-effective ways to clean up the dirty power plants that account for nearly 40 percent of our national carbon footprint.
The people of Kansas City will have the chance to air their views Feb. 21, when the Environmental Protection Agency holds a listening session on its proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan. It’s a chance to show up and demonstrate what government by the consent of the governed means.
Whatever we voted for in 2016, it was not to hand over to industrial ruin public lands and waters that belong to you and me. It was not to surrender our future to fossil fuel profits. It was not to break our promise to the rest of the world and leave our kids to pay the price.
The state of our environment is imperiled, but American democracy is strong. We must stand up, speak out and make our voices heard, until the president stops listening only to the fossil fuel industry and begins to listen to the voice of the people.
Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.