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My wife likes to remind me, whenever I do or say something she considers wrong, that “what I choose to believe doesn’t change reality.”
That’s certainly true and of course she’s usually right, but what happens to me as a consequence of any false beliefs is my own problem, not the world’s.
The magical thinking of our current president and the alternative reality in which he lives, however, can have catastrophic consequences for future generations — particularly his stubborn refusal to accept the increasingly horrifying damages caused by climate change.
Donald Trump’s lack of familiarity with truth shows up every day. His documented total of exaggerations, false statements and outright lies now tops 6,000, routinely six to eight every day. And the White House press office, parroting the boss, has lost all credibility, which is dangerous since there might come a time we really need to believe something they say.
But what’s even more damaging than his own lies is Trump’s unwillingness or inability to face reality he doesn’t like.
For instance, Trump continues to deny Russia’s serious attempts to affect the 2016 election despite evidence to the contrary gathered by America’s own intelligence agencies. The Mueller investigation, with its mounting indictments and convictions, is no “witch hunt” or “fake news.”
Last week, the president again denied the unanimous conclusion of all his intelligence agencies that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was actively behind the brutal strangulation and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, turning a blind eye to cold-blooded murder. Foreign affairs experts say that’s a terrible abdication of American values that could embolden more violence overseas.
But these two examples are just pitiful politics in comparison with Trump’s steadfast denial of the dire danger to America, and all civilization around the world, from climate change.
On Friday, conveniently while Americans were out shopping and not paying attention, the Trump administration released the fourth National Climate Assessment, the second of four such studies commissioned by Congress in the 1980s to be submitted every four years.
This study, more than 1,700 pages, involved 13 federal agencies and more than 300 leading climate scientists. In great and damning detail, the study concludes not only that the world’s temperature is rising but that human actions are contributing to it, and faster than expected.
The changing climate, the report says, “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy and the natural systems that support us.”
Unless the nation changes its practices and policies soon before it becomes too late, the report goes on, there will be “substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”
We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars lost, with agriculture the hardest hit, and a tremendous physical toll on our collective health and safety. And we’re past theories. The increasing drought in California that causes the horrific fires we’re now seeing; the changing weather patterns that intensify hurricanes into the superstorms that hit not only Texas, the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico and Florida, but also here in North Carolina all too recently; the melting ice at both poles that is already resulting in rising sea levels eating away the land; animal extinction as ecosystems decline — all these things, scientists say, are examples of the impact of climate change right now, with the worst yet to come if nothing changes.
And how did Trump respond Monday to his administration’s own report?
“I don’t believe it,” he told reporters, and that’s why he released the report on a day nobody was paying attention and later downplayed it.
Trump is ignorant of the workings of climate change. He thinks it’s a hoax, confuses short-term weather with long-term climate changes and has no empathy whatsoever for the victims of recent natural disasters, none. He thinks other nations will take advantage of any reductions America makes, and doubts anything we can do will make a difference, so why bother?
What’s scary is that Trump is in a position as president to have a dramatic impact, for better or worse, on how we respond to this epic challenge. So far his only response has been to pooh-pooh his own administration’s report and to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, leaving us the only nation in the world not taking part in the global attempt to curb climate change.
We can make a difference. A few decades ago, when scientists discovered a hole in the earth’s ozone layer, threatening to increase dangerous radiation, the U.S. and other countries eliminated the environmental pollutions that caused it — and the hole healed.
Unfortunately, now that we need the best minds of our nation to join other countries to save our world as we know it, we’re being led by an unstable man who lives in a fanciful world of his own delusions.
And what he chooses to believe won’t change reality.
Ken Ripley is a resident of Spring Hope and The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.