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US Government forced to face both ways on climate change

Whether Donald Trump really believes that climate change is merely a Chinese hoax dreamed up to destroy US industry is a matter of conjecture; but his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement is a fact.  And while some within his administration clearly do think that climate change is a hoax, key individuals do not.

One such is US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who recently told Congress that climate change is a threat to US national security:

“Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defence must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

Mattis’ views are clearly in the majority in the US House of Representatives, where a new Defence Policy Bill was passed on Friday by 344 votes to 81.  Included in the budget-busting Bill is a declaration that climate change is a national security threat that has to be addressed:

“The section requires the Pentagon to deliver a report to Congress detailing the impact of climate change on the armed forces. The climate change report also is to list the 10 military bases most vulnerable to rising oceans, increased flooding, wildfires and other effects of climate change.”

Irrespective of what the president may or may not think, it is hard to project power around the world with a “blue water navy” whose bases simply cannot be moved inland to mitigate the threat from sea level rise.  This is a particular problem for the US Navy’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia because of the way in which the Atlantic gulf-stream current is adding to sea level rise along the US east coast.

Similar policy dissonance is growing between President Trump and state and local governments as the reality of climate change adds to their costs.  Land along the Gulf of Mexico, for example, is naturally sinking.  Add in sea level rise and an increase in hurricane strength and a repeat of a Katrina-scale disaster is inevitable.  Meanwhile, local authorities in Miami Beach are currently spending billions of dollars to combat so-called “sunny day flooding” (where the tide rises through the city’s now below sea level drains) and to prepare the city for ongoing rises in sea level.

Around the USA, state and local government, together with departments like defence, are coming face to face with the realities – and eye-watering costs – of climate change even as the deniers, led by Trump himself, are shouting “hoax” ever louder…  The image of King Canute comes to mind.

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