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Blair Horner: Trump Fiddles While The Earth Burns

The summer rolls on and the heat builds up.  But this is not like any other summer, it’s getting hotter in unprecedented ways.  July’s heat, for example, fueled ferocious wildfires, from the arctic to Greece, where more than 80 people died, to the Western states, where it feels like the entire state of California is burning.

California endured its hottest summer on record in 2017.  But it’s smashing single day all time temperature broke records this year.  On July 6, heat records were set at UCLA (111), Burbank and Santa Ana (114), and Chino, California hit 120 degrees.

In the hugely destructive Carr fire in Northern California, scientists say, extreme heat and dry brush on July 26th reportedly helped create a devastating fire tornado as much as 500 yards wide and 38,000 feet tall, with winds exceeding 143 mph.

It wasn’t blazingly hot only in the California desert.  Throughout the United States, from Maine to Nevada, new heat records were set.  

Temperatures topped 90 degrees in the Arctic Circle.  Wildfires ravaged northern Scandinavia and Siberia; the smoke, and its air pollution, colored sunsets red in Canada and the U.S.  In Greenland, an iceberg may break off a piece so large that it could trigger a tsunami that engulfs villages on its shores.  Recently, Sweden’s highest mountain peak is no longer in first place after its glacier tip melted.

Heat records were also set in Armenia, France and Britain.  Algeria (over 124 degrees) probably broke the all-time high for Africa.  Temperatures in Spain and Portugal reached 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In Japan, 23,000 people were hospitalized in one week in July from triple-digit temperatures; since May, more than 80 people have died of heatstroke.  

Korea — both South and North — also shattered records in July, with at least 29 people in the South dying from heatstroke. More than 3 million livestock in South Korea died.

In August, scientists concluded that intensifying heat waves in China’s crucial agricultural area likely will “limit habitability” later this century in the region of 400 million people.  Last year the same scientists concluded the same thing about heat in South Asia — which includes India and Pakistan and about 20 percent of the world’s population.

After years of warnings, climate change has arrived – and arrived in a dangerous way.  What often looks like a Hollywood disaster movie is the new normal for a planet seriously altered by human activity.

Yet, the Trump Administration seems hell-bent on doing all it can to accelerate global warming.  Last week, the Trump Administration took action to weaken the auto emissions rules set by the state of California. 

Since the 1970s, California has been able to issue its own stricter standards on tailpipe emissions than the federal government’s.  The courts have upheld California’s actions and thirteen states have chosen to follow; a group of states that make up nearly 50 percent of the nation’s population.  

This is the second step the Trump Administration has taken to weaken air pollution rules.  Its first was to eviscerate Obama-era regulations, which required that car and trucks would average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.  Under the Trump administration’s plan, mileage targets would freeze at 37 miles per gallon in 2020 for six years.

And freezing the vehicle tailpipe emissions will result in increases in greenhouse gas emissions.  The same emissions that are fueling global warming. 

Transportation accounts for about one third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.  In some suburban areas, that impact is greater.  If public health and environmental policies were based on science and not greed or ideology, it would be a no-brainer to combat climate change by reducing car emissions.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is intent on accelerating the catastrophe known as climate change.  With elections looming in fewer than 100 days, voters will get a chance to decide whether science – not ideology – should drive national environmental policies.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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