If you knew that someone would go on to do terrible things in the future, if you could see it with certainty, would you try to stop them, now, in the present?
It’s an age-old question. Usually, one that people chat about over dinner or a joint. A fun hypothetical and nothing more. But what about people doing terrible things now that are going to have sweeping effects on our shared reality in years to come? What about people who have no care for our destruction of the planet or the various species that inhabit it? Would you do something to stop them? To what lengths would you go? What if they denied the very idea that the planet is in peril at all?
At what point does someone’s blatant aggression against the future safety and security of humankind demand counter-aggression in the present? What would you do today in order to protect tomorrow?
This cascade of questions is deeply relevant to our relationship with the environment. Climate change has deleterious effects on the planet; ignoring the problem exacerbates those effects. If the jury was still out, as our president continues to insist, it would be a different story. But these debates are all dead. Not only is the science settled on the idea that humans are the leading cause of climate change, the science is also settled on whether or not the science is settled.
The Fourth National Climate Assesment, a Congress-mandated report, released both sneakily and perhaps fittingly on Black Friday, is quite clear on the fact that the effects of climate change are here. The report is full of little gems like:
The continued warming that is projected to occur without substantial and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century.
Extreme weather and climate-related impacts on one system can result in increased risks or failures in other critical systems, including water resources, food production and distribution, energy and transportation, public health, international trade, and national security.
The 1,656-page document is full of this sort of stuff. The 2014 report drew similar conclusions, with less financial specificity. Meanwhile, a study from Flinders University in South Australia was released yesterday, warning of a species death domino effect. NASA, an agency jammed full of people smart enough to send a rocket 141 million miles away to land on Mars so that it can send us back sunset selfies, has charted 138 years of climate data and compiled all of the agencies and scientific societies that believe in climate change. Take a look. It’s staggering.
So how did the president react to this news, underscored by the NCA report? He said, “I don’t believe it.”
To give the president the benefit of the doubt, his statement seemed to be a response to questions about the effects of climate change on the economy — of which the report provides in-depth specifics. Perhaps the more troubling part of his response was the implication that the United States shouldn’t bother making headway in environmental preservation unless China does the same. The comment reveals the president’s petulance and his overarching position that “if someone is worse, we get to be bad too.”