It’s the Environment, Stupid – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

The GOP is determined not to be upended by Sharpie Gate.  Presidential primaries in several states have disappeared and the party wants us to know “…The contrast between Mr. Trump and the Democratic field is a demonstration of just how much Mr. Trump understands the American psyche and just how much most Democrats do not.” They know that in this week’s contest for weird news, “Sharpie Gate” might outdo the Taliban-Camp David story, the firing/resignation of John Bolton, the U.S. military’s spending related to Trump’s Ireland golf course, and maybe all the other 12,019 false or misleading presidential statements documented by Fact Checker.

How did this mess escalate so quickly? We began with a silly photo-op when Trump, trying to prove his earlier claim that Dorian put Alabama at risk, produced a map showing the hurricane moving in a sharpie-drawn curve towards Alabama. We progressed to goofy when Twitter erupted with sharpie memes: Trump with 6-pack abs, bone spur feet, and, my favorite, a check from Mexico for ten trillion dollars for the wall.

When the National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham reassured Alabamans that they weren’t at risk, Sharpie Gate moved well beyond ridiculous. Trump’s determination to prove he was right had the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) backing him over its own scientists. The revelation that staffers were instructed not to contradict Trump stirred the pot even more. It became a category 5 controversy when The New York Times reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top NOAA employees if they didn’t disavow the NWS tweet.

Sharpie Gate was stupid and attention grabbing, but we need to focus instead on a central issue raised by Dorian: climate change. We differ on this with many believing it’s a crisis threatening our existence and others say it’s a sky-is-falling hoax. But Dorian demonstrated that beliefs have dire consequences. Just ask the folks who stayed on North Carolina’s islands despite calls to evacuate. “Just another storm”, said one of them to a reporter. And then came the deluge. Are we going to continue to endanger lives like this by underestimating growing risks?

There needs to be a non-partisan acknowledgement of the role of climate change. There are many Republicans who do recognize the climate change challenge, but where are they? If they don’t like Democrats’ ideas, what are their alternatives?

Our psyches may view climate change differently, but aren’t there areas of mutual interest? Are we not in agreement that the national budget doesn’t support oil and gas subsidies? Do we really want the federal government to sue car manufacturers who follow California’s lower emissions standards? Can’t we all protest executive orders limiting states’ rights to block oil and gas pipelines? And who thinks it makes sense for the Environmental Protection Agency to discontinue its scientific review panel that advises about safe levels of air pollution. Even if you think going green is too expensive, ignorance never made anything cheaper.

Let’s all pay attention to reports that the Grand Bahama Island is ‘dead’. No amount of repair will make it livable again. That’s what the future looks like, first for those outlying islands, and then for sea-level coasts. We should talk as much about preventing Dorian-like devastation as about Sharpie Gate. Advocate loud and long at the local level because without grass roots determination, national solutions are quickly swept up into political storms. And don’t get psyched out by photo-ops. Selling branded sharpies as part of the GOP 2020 presidential campaign won’t save lives.


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