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Warnings of Doom, Amid a Smokescreen of Denial and Distraction

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The Trump administration predictably tried to bury the dire warnings contained in the fourth National Climate Assessment by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving, when many people would be distracted by the mass consumption frenzy known as Black Friday. It didn’t work, of course, since the findings were nothing short of warnings of doom if humanity doesn’t radically reduce the production of greenhouse gases caused primarily by burning fossil fuels.

Equally predictable was the response from the Climate Denier-in-Chief that he simply “didn’t believe” the findings. The rays of hope are that, thanks to the Mueller investigation, indictments and convictions, as well as the recent election that erased the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Donald Trump’s “reign of error” on the environment is coming to an end — and not a minute too soon for our nation and the planet.

Considering that the congressionally mandated Climate Assessment was put together by more than 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies, there are plenty of good reasons to heed its assessments and predictions, summarized right up front in the report as: “Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.”

Here in Montana, the “risks and vulnerabilities” are particularly acute as a warming climate produces longer and more extreme wildfire seasons, less snow and drought-caused water shortages, rivers warming beyond the tolerable limits for our world-famous wild trout fisheries, and a host of impacts to a wide variety of businesses from agriculture to recreation.

And of course there’s the eminently visible disappearance of the glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park and the aftermath of the bark beetle break out that was, like the melting glaciers, caused by warmer winters with a distinct lack of the below zero temperatures that used to kill the beetles.

Of course the report covers far more than Montana’s current and increasing problems, such as Alaska’s melting permafrost releasing methane, the potent greenhouse gas, to the human-caused burden of atmospheric pollutants, the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars from sectors across the economy and significantly more climate-related deaths.

As Wesleyan University professor Gary Yohe, who reviewed the report, told Washington Post reporters: “We have wasted 15 years of response time. If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond and the more expensive it will be.”

The good news is that President Trump is in his last days of denying these life- and health-threatening issues with policies that move in the opposite direction with his one-party control of government. There is already a request for a committee in the new Democratically controlled House to create a Green New Deal plan to move aggressively to move America quickly to a renewable, sustainable and clean energy future.

Whether they will prevail against the deeply entrenched corporate interests that continue to plunder the earth for massive profits is unknown. As the old saying goes, “power never relinquishes power without a fight.” But this fight is one we must, for ourselves, future generations and our fellow travelers on Planet Earth, undertake, and Trump’s endless attempts at denial and distraction must be laid aside to address by far the most serious threat to our continued existence. Luckily, the recent election brings us the rays of hope we desperately need — and which will hopefully prevail against those who would imperil us all.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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