August 2016 was the hottest month in recorded history. Nothing new there. As a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies, “Combat vs. Climate,” explains, 15 of the 16 hottest years ever recorded have been in the 21st century. Official Pentagon planning documents recognize climate change as “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.” And yet the 2016 Republican Party platform simply dismisses it. None of the moderators at the presidential or vice-presidential debates in 2012 deemed the topic worthy of even a single question, and none have done so this year either.
When Donald Trump isn’t musing on grabbing lady parts or bragging about what a bodacious babe his young daughter was, he sometimes spouts his belief that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” You may have heard about that because, unbidden by the moderators, Hillary Clinton brought up Trump’s crazy tweet in the first presidential debate. True to form, he denied it, though it was seen by millions of people before and after the debate. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway got all postmodern regarding his loony notion while spinning on CNN: She explained that Trump simply meant he believes that “global warming is naturally occurring”—that is, independent of human activity.
While this position may appear marginally less lunatic than Trump’s true beliefs—if such things can be said to exist—scientific support for it remains no less rare. Disbelief in the human role in global warming among qualified climatologists has fallen into “margin of error” territory—that is, between 1 and 3 percent. And yet, according to a recent Pew poll, roughly three-quarters of Republicans still think the whole idea is really some sort of conspiracy. Just 15 percent are willing to accept that there’s a scientific consensus on the issue. All told, according to Pew, barely a third of Americans say they “care a great deal” about climate change.
As the IPS report points out, the United States spends 28 times as much on traditional military security as on climate security. And so, as we spend tens of billions of dollars for weapons that won’t work for wars we will never fight, we have all but disarmed ourselves in the face of a future that will likely see a devastating loss of arable land, taking our food supply with it. We can look forward to increasingly frequent hurricanes and a rise in sea levels that will threaten all the world’s coastal cities. The Pentagon’s planning reports have been warning since 2008 that a warming world will provoke a massive increase in the flow of refugees, violent conflicts over depleted natural resources (especially water), and a sharp spike in energy prices.
The news media don’t deserve all the blame for Americans’ ignorance and corresponding lack of alarm. Almost all political systems display a natural inertia when confronting a not-yet-visible catastrophe, and every modern president, for better or worse, has had to grapple with Americans’ distaste for any form of sacrifice or even collective action for anything short of military attack.