Category Archives: Op-Ed

The Sad Irony of Trump’s Presidential Response to Hurricane Harvey

 The oblivious president

On Tuesday, August 29, as Hurricane Harvey lingered over Houston dumping an “unprecedented” four feet of rain, plus a few inches, the presidential entourage landed in Corpus Christi.

Three days earlier Hurricane Harvey came ashore north of Corpus, pounding the small community of Rockport as a Category 4 storm. South Texas took the brunt of what is becoming a new normal: other-worldly weather events. It’s hard to know how to respond to an unmitigated disaster. The president’s role as consoler-in-chief is critical in times of widespread tragedy, though awkward in the best of circumstances. The last thing local authorities need is the small army required to transport the president.

This is true of any president, a rare example of bipartisanship. What the president says, how he comports himself, is another matter. Much has already been written about President Trump’s narcissist-tinged, tone-deaf response while on the ground in Texas. But beyond his grating, bumptious manner, there is a much sadder irony in the president’s comments, revealing a stark disconnect between what he does and his understanding of what he is doing.

The best crisis ever

“Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500-year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!” – Presidential tweet, August 27, 2017

Wow indeed, as Harvey is third “500-year-flood” to hit the Houston area in as many years and by far the worst. Never fear, Donal Trump is on it. Acknowledging it was too soon to congratulate each other, President Trump boasted at a meeting in Austin on Tuesday that his administration would meet the “epic” 15 trillion gallons of water dropped on Houston “better than ever before.” Years from now people will say “this is how to do it.”

I hope so because with each passing year, meeting unprecedented natural disasters will demand the best of us. Aging infrastructure stretched beyond its design parameters, human displacement, resource constraints, economic, physical, and emotional devastation. We best be prepared.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Trump has no plan, and it’s the best

Mr. Trump rode to power on a populist message of remembering the forgotten Americans overrun by a world changing too fast. Promising to make us all “sick and tired of winning,” people ate it up. At least enough people to get him elected. The problem with winning the presidency is then you become president.

The job of selling is done, now it is time to execute. To execute you need a plan. President Trump’s lack of a coherent plan for his presidency is evident in his approach to climate change, though hardly exclusive to this one issue.

To be clear, there is nothing President Trump could have done to prevent Harvey’s devastation. Any poor decisions contributing to the storm’s impact were made long before he became president. But decisions he and his cabinet are now implementing ensures more devastation, more human and economic loss, and more “never before witnessed” catastrophic weather in the decades to come.

Trump’s plan? Undo whatever Obama did, including a policy mandate to improve infrastructure resilience in high-risk flood plains.

The Trump administration believes it best to rebuild infrastructure destroyed in Harvey-like storms just “as it was before.” Like it will never be again.

If not now, then when?

There is one thing Harvey makes crystal clear, at least to me. We are out of time. The energy, heat, and water vapor producing Harvey was baked into the system many years ago. The sprawling concrete urban planning of cities like Houston is considered adequate, even as the city drowns.

Yet, the narrative from the Trump administration is that discussing the risk of climate change during natural disasters is “opportunistic.” A chance for the left wing media to politicize the issue, thereby diabolically politicizing the issue.

The obvious fact is that Trump and his people will never find a good time to discuss climate change. Not now, not ever. Expunge the phrase from official documents, defund research, turn off satellites monitoring the biosphere. Make false promises to coal miners and blame it on “fake news” when it doesn’t work out. This is the world in which Donald Trump lives. A world very different from the one you and I will find ourselves all too soon. For many that world has already arrived on their doorstep with a vengeance.

The sad irony of Donald Trump

It’s safe to say that President Trump does not “believe” in climate change. Or maybe he does. He softened his rhetoric about the Paris Agreement when treated well in Paris and allowed to flirt with Macron’s wife.

From my distant (but all too close) perch, it seems Mr. Trump doesn’t believe in much beyond notoriety and monetary wealth. He says things like “they’re gonna take out the coal and clean it.” As if there’s a job for someone with a scrub brush and determination to make that coal sparkle.

He withdraws the United States from the hard-won Paris Agreement, claiming the rest of the world will no longer be laughing at us.

In Trump’s world, the subtle nuance of a truly empathetic response to Hurricane Harvey, perhaps to anything, is simply beyond his abilities. He can’t make the connection between a successive series of unprecedented extreme weather events and a changing climate.

President Trump is oblivious. The real tragedy is that he just doesn’t care.

We can still mitigate the impacts of climate change headed our way. We must. Be we focus on adaptation to a new world.

Hang on, we’re in for a tough ride.


Images credits: U.S. Department of Defense

The Cognitive Dissonance of Earth Day

Marching for science in the Anthropocene

For what you have tamed, you become responsible forever
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I ask the same question every year: how do we balance our sense of hope and despair? Another Earth Day rolls around and the question has never been more cogent.

Barely three months into Donald Trump’s America decades of policy and progress are now at risk of abandonment. As the world hurtles forward into an unknown future, the fractures within our society seem to grow wider; our self-absorption deeper our disconnect with the natural world more profound.

The ascension of Donald Trump to power and the appalling process that put him there seems to exemplify all of this. Trump, I argue, represents no cause; only effect.

As tens of thousands take to the streets to “March for Science” this Earth Day, the reality of what Donald Trump represents awakens within many a feeling of “resistance” in a world of increasing distrust and narcissism.

This is a good thing, but the anger and resentment we place at the feet of Trump change nothing unless we come to grips with our own disconnect; our own cognitive dissonance.

At war with ourselves

It may seem strange for someone spending so much of their time, energy, and resources advocating for environmental causes, but I am ambivalent toward Earth Day.

Like a tiresome preacher on Easter Sunday, it is too easy for me to look at the throngs of Earth Day supporters and wonder where they’ve been all this time; where they’ll be tomorrow.

Perhaps this a valid point, but it belies my own culpability. My own profound disconnect.

Do my efforts really make any difference or am I just assuaging my own guilt? To what extent am I responsible for the world into which I was born?

I write my articles on a computer made up of plastics, rare earth elements, toxic materials. A mysterious stew of components destined for an “away” that does not exist.

I often engage in my advocacy by traveling halfway around the world. Whether flying thousands of miles or driving hundreds, it doesn’t happen without adding to the destruction of which I claim advocacy.

I am a hypocrite.

I wouldn’t last a week without a lifestyle made possible by a global supply chain in an industrialized, fossil-fuel driven economy. Few of us would.

And yet we continue to play fast and loose with the resource base that makes it all possible.

Many days I would prefer to ignore the dark secret that it cannot go on forever. What choice do I have?

We start from where we are, a place of cognitive dissonance. One way or another, we are all hypocrites.

We all live with our own contradictions and conflict. Nothing will ever completely make sense. Accept it and move on.

By choosing our narrative we define our values.

The choice we all need to make is: “what kind of hypocrite will I be?”

Living with choices

There is still a debate about “Anthropocene” as a measure of geologic time, but surely “anthropocene” isn’t. We control our environment and there are a lot more of us.

Some dismiss it as modern-day Malthusianism. I believe we have ridden the industrial revolution to glorious heights, but at catastrophic cost for all.

I’m not getting any younger. Choices need to be made. I try to look at the world I inhabit through a lens of gratitude, consistently falling short.

That I have the luxury of time to devote to “a cause” makes it my responsibility to own it. For now, it works. I try to make it better. It’s what I can do.

Ripples of hope

I do, admittedly, often trot out these words from RFK’s historic South Africa speech. Nor am I the only one.

For me – for us –  it embodies among the most eloquent expressions of humanity, human agency, and change. It is the narrative I choose and therein lay my act of faith.

It’s my way of saying Happy Earth Day.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”


Thanks to all the people I’ve met, talked to, and worked with the past year. It is your work, insight, and expertise that informs any value in my efforts.

The gang at TriplePundit

Richard Matthews

Kurt Johnson:  Social System Physics

Natasha Zellerbach:  Zellerbach Associates

Andrew Burger

Mai Amit

Adrian Wain: Circular Economy, UL  EHS

Lynelle Cameron: VP of Sustainability, Autodesk. CEO, Autodesk Foundation

Sherry Flumerfelt: executive director, Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust

Jim Brainard: Mayor, Carmel, Indiana

Cyril Dion: filmmaker, Tomorrow

Anthony Barnoski: biologist and executive director, Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve

Noah Kaufman – World Resources Institute

Johnson Bridgewater, president, Oklahoma chapter, Sierra Club

Ondra Berry

 

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity
– Horace Mann

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
-Edward Everett Hale

My Inconvenient Truth : Reflections on Al Gore’s Impact, Ten Years On

In May of 2006, Al Gore’s now-classic climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth was released. The movie won an Oscar in the Featured Documentary category, and Gore was co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The nominating committee recognized Gore and the IPCC “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

For many, it was as if Al Gore invented global warming. Or that global warming invented Al Gore, I’m not sure which. What is certain is the enormous impact the movie and Gore’s advocacy through the years had on raising awareness about the, well, inconvenient truth of climate change.

To be perfectly candid, I think “raising awareness” is among the canon of over-hyped phrases like “paradigm shift.” Meaningful at their core, these idioms are overused, often with a pretentious tinge, to the point of diffusing much of their impact and credibility. This is ironic given that we live in transformative times ourselves, witness to a global paradigm shift of raised awareness.

It’s tricky.

I read Gore’s 1992 nonfiction book “Earth in the Balance,” so I was no stranger to his environmental advocacy. But “An Inconvenient Truth” brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness like little did before or since (except the changing climate itself), for better and worse. I can only speak anecdotally, but I believe Gore is likely the most famous straw man alive — and for some, also the most reviled. He raised awareness about global warming so masterfully that he has become synonymous with it, often not in a good way.

This may sound like I’m being critical of his work. If I do admit some ambivalence, it is not for lack of admiration and inspiration for what Gore has done and is doing in the public campaign to push for climate action. I’ve heard Gore speak on several occasions. I’ve gone through his Climate Leadership training. He is passionate and sincere about his work.

Perhaps my ambivalence is directed more toward the climate change narrative itself than to Gore’s engagement with it. It is a narrative too often oversimplified, tortured beyond all recognition of civility and imbued with an ideological fervor that has little to do with the task at hand.

And it’s for all this that I’d like to take the opportunity of the 10-year anniversary of “An Inconvenient Truth” to thank Al Gore for changing my life.

An inconvenient journey

I can’t say exactly when I first learned about climate change, but it was long before Gore’s movie. I’d also read other cautionary works like Jeremy Rifkin’s early work “Entropy,” Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb,” Robert Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over” and The Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth,” among others. 

From a very young age I was a budding Malthusian.

But while contemplating this doom, I also found great joy in the beauty of the world around me. My ambivalence was my own.

I acquired the domain name “globalwarmingisreal.com” several years earlier, but after seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” in May of 2006 I decided to focus my efforts on what I cared about most and launched the official blog GlobalWarmingisReal.com (GWIR). It was a humble launch, but 10 years on it is still going strong.

What’s more, I’ve had an opportunity to temper my general Malthusian worldview with a sense of guarded optimism. While I’ve endured over the years the expected heaving of hate and fear, I’ve also seen firsthand the hard work of many talented, passionate and brilliant people focused on moving the world toward a better future. That’s what gives me inspiration to engage with these pathfinders, tell their story and each day try a little bit harder to help light the way.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself,” Robert Kennedy said in a 1966 speechin South Africa, “but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” We all have within us the power to send out “tiny ripples of hope” that will converge into a mighty current of sweeping renewal.

Few of us have the influence or reach of Al Gore, but we all have a responsibility to pursue the harder path before us, so that others may follow. Each in our own way.

Is Al Gore the reason I am concerned about global warming? No. But Gore and his documentary helped set me out on the path I am on today, and upon which I intend to remain for the rest of my life

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.”
— Adrienne Rich

Image credit: Woody Hibbard, courtesy flickr

This post originally published on TriplePundit