When Hurricane Harvey washed over Texas in August of 2017, it was the first major hurricane—Category 3 or above—to hit the U.S. mainland since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. It wouldn’t be the last. Irma crossed Florida a month later. Florence and Michael followed in 2018. And now Hurricane Dorian is on track to show that major hurricanes bringing enormous damage to the United States have become a regular thing. And that’s not even counting Maria, which was the second-most costly hurricane on record as it ripped across Puerto Rico in 2017, taking 3,000 lives.
With every one of these storms, the question comes up again about whether or not the climate crisis “caused this storm,” and every time, scientists and weather forecasters hem, haw, and talk about the difficulty of discussing any specific weather event in terms of overall climate change. But the answer is yes. Yes, we are now in a climate regime unlike that which existed before the turn of the century; a climate regime that in fact has never existed in all the long history of humanity.
More storms, lingering storms, storms that carry more rain, storms that ultimately generate more flooding, more long-term damage, more human lives lost—those are all part of the prediction for a world suffering a climate crisis. Which is this world.
Donald Trump is determined to do something about it—with “something” here being to drive the world deeper into the crisis, simply because it gratifies his need to demonstrate power over others. The New York Times has gathered a list of major climate-related regulations that Trump either has already reversed, or is working on reversing. And there are very good reasons to believe that these actions will cause more damage, do more lasting harm, and cost more lives than everything else Trump has done.
Trump is worried about his legacy. This is his legacy: He met the greatest known threat of our age and threw in his lot on the side of that threat.
Some of Trump’s actions are more subtle. That includes one that isn’t mentioned in the Times article—providing waivers to dozens of “small” oil refineries, even when those refineries are owned by very large companies, so that they don’t have to include ethanol in their fuel mix. That move wasn’t just a significant contribution to sinking the price of corn, but a massive shift of wealth from agriculture to oil companies.
Benefiting oil companies at the cost of other industries was a motif of other moves by Trump, such as cutting fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, even when auto manufacturers didn’t want those changes, and removing dozens of standards around both fracking for methane and guarding against the release of methane. On Thursday, Trump made a major move to relax those regulations even more, eliminating the requirement that oil and gas companies even try to detect how much of this powerful greenhouse gas they are spilling into the atmosphere.
Coal companies have also been on the winning side of Trump’s environment-hate. There have been relaxed rules on handling mine waste, relaxed rules on dealing with coal ash slurry, and relaxed rules for power plant emissions. That money has increased the profit per ton for surviving companies. Unfortunately for coal workers, it hasn’t increased the demand, since, despite Trump’s best efforts, coal is being effectively priced out of the energy market. Still, Trump’s direct order to destroy the Clean Power Plan created under President Obama represents what was probably his most direct and blatant attempt to simply screw the planet for the sake of putting a thumb in his predecessor’s eye.
Then there are the changes that benefit everyone out to make a quick buck at the expense of the environment. Those include both Trump’s gutting of the Endangered Species Act and his destruction of the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule.
Finally, there’s Trump’s treatment of public land. Because Trump doesn’t see that land as a national trust. He sees it as a gift. A gift he can give to his campaign contributors to make sure the contributions keep flowing. Trump has opened, or attempted to open, everything from the last Arctic refuge to the oceans off of every U.S. seaboard to drilling. Which only proves that the funds that went into his historically underattended inaugural were a bargain.
But perhaps even more important than the regulatory changes has been Trump’s public disdain for the issue. From pulling out of the Paris agreement to his continued refusal to acknowledge the nature of the crisis, Trump has enabled climate deniers just as much as he’s enabled white supremacist shooters. The climate crisis deniers are wealthier. And their weapons are much larger.