If you were watching the Republican National Convention this week, you might have missed the news: Millions of acres of land across the West are on fire, families are living in extreme heat in Arizona, and the Category 4 Hurricane Laura slammed into the Gulf Coast.
The climate crisis is happening right before our eyes, but President Donald Trump simply offered his “thoughts to the wonderful people who have just come through the wrath of Hurricane Laura” and then proceeded to double down on lying about former Vice President Joe Biden’s proposals to invest in clean energy.
During the convention, climate change was mentioned a grand total of one time, by Vice President Mike Pence — who offered prayers to people in the path of Hurricane Laura, but then dismissed the threat of climate change.
No one put forward plans or solutions to the biggest threat to our country's future; the only thing the GOP was able to offer is their “thoughts and prayers." But when the climate crisis is destroying homes, ravaging farms and agricultural businesses, leveling entire communities and killing people, thoughts and prayers are not enough.
It’s clear from what we saw over the last week that the Republican Party is in denial. They deny the exigency of mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate change crisis; they deny the necessity of policies informed by science and experts; and they deny Americans relief from these collective problems by eschewing any collective action and instead leave us to fend for ourselves.
Denial is not a plan, though, and "thoughts and prayers" are not a solution.
That this is all they have for us shouldn’t be surprising; the GOP has been offering prayers in lieu of policies for years. Whether in response to gun violence, an inequitable health care system, police brutality, the climate crisis or now a worldwide pandemic, Republicans are blindly following both their long-standing playbook and the direction of a president who dismisses 180,000 dead Americans and counting with a glib, “It is what it is.”
The rest of us, however, are no longer at a point at which we can ignore the realities before us.
We can’t ignore the reality before us. Climate change is making storms, fires and hurricanes more frequent, dangerous and deadly. Warming seas and a wetter atmosphere are supercharging hurricanes by increasing rainfall, worsening flood risks and leading to rapid intensification. This is why Hurricane Laura rapidly strengthened over the 24 hours before it came ashore.
And it is not just the intensity of the storms that have increased; there are more and more of them. Climate change has been driving increased hurricane activity in the Atlantic and leading to the most extreme hurricane seasons on record.
Meanwhile, a bone-dry winter sandwiched between extremely hot summers fueled wildfires across California this year, issuing a cloud of smoke thatpassed over the the White Housewhere Trump held part of his political convention.
We’re already living the economic consequences of climate change. The number of billion-dollar disasters over the last 10 years has been historically large: One hundred and twenty-three extreme weather events cost the U.S. more than $800 billion. In 2019 alone, weather and climate disasters cost the United States more than $45 billion. Economists say if we don’t act, climate change could cut the U.S. economy by up to 10 percent, kill millions of jobs and cost Americans tens of trillions of dollars in the coming decades.
And make no mistake, Trump is making the climate crisis worse. The fossil fuel lobbyists whom Trump has appointed to lead the agencies charged with protecting our public health and environment have rolled back more than 100 regulations during his tenure — including the bedrock National Environmental Protection Act.
During the middle of this pandemic, the administration allowed more than 3,000 polluters to have free rein to pollute our air and water under the guise of loosening regulations. They gave waivers to oil and gas companies, allowing them to curb environmental monitoring standards and skip testing altogether for some refineries and gas stations. In August, the Trump administration even approved oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — one of the country’s last wild places.
It's not the first time. Even in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, as Houston and other cities saw polluted and toxic water flood their neighborhoods, Trump rolled back the “chemical disaster rule,” which sets requirements for chemical plants to plan for emergencies, like hurricanes and extreme weather.
We will see the consequences of all of those decisions play out in the coming days and weeks as Texas and Louisiana contend with the damage from Hurricane Laura. In Lake Charles, Louisiana, a chemical plant damaged by the hurricane has already caught fire, releasing poisonous chlorine gas into the atmosphere. Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered residents to seal their homes and shelter in place.
This is one reason that thoughts and prayers are not enough when it comes to natural disasters driven by climate change. We need real solutions that understand the severity and importance of the moment and will rise to it — not simply bear witness to the catastrophic course of destruction laid out by Trump administration policies and willing political denialism.