See Disclaimer. This article is part of the ‘Letters to an unfit president‘ series.
We have been keeping mostly inside, as smoke from remote wildfires rolls through our home in rural Oregon. The air quality has ranged from ‘unhealthy’ to ‘hazardous,’ making it unwise to go outside for any extended periods. Even basic tasks like irrigating or picking the day’s yield of produce have suffered.
Comparatively, though, we are very fortunate. Many of our fellow Oregonians lost their houses, tens of thousands had to evacuate theirs, and hundreds of thousands have been under alert for a possible evacuation. At least ten people died.
As I type this letter, I have my grandkids—and yours, too—in mind. What world are we leaving them? From a grandfather to another, how are you able to look at your grandkids in the eye? As US president, you could have made a real positive difference on climate change. Yet, you chose to seriously aggravate the problem, whether by ignorance or malice. Perhaps both?
Blaming the West Coast fires on forest mismanagement, as you have done, is over-simplistic and misleading. If you truly believed that management practices are the main culprit, shouldn’t you have done something about it? After all, this is not a new issue, and you—as president—are the ultimate steward of the federal land that composes about half of the California, Oregon, and Washington forests.
Your own scientists would tell you—if you were willing to listen—that the unprecedented scale of the 2020 Oregon (and West Coast) fires are aligned with the expected consequences of extreme events driven by climate change. In this case, specifically, unseasonably strong winds—at least in part driven by unseasonably cold weather in Colorado—combined with extremely dry conditions over the Summer.
Your scientists would also tell you that the record-setting 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is, similarly, consistent with the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events tied to climate change. Neither the present nor the future look bright, from a climate perspective. And we, humans, are unambiguously to blame.
Science tells you all this, Sir. Although you recently and arrogantly stated the opposite, science actually knows. And it has been forewarning us, repeatedly and with a deep sense of urgency.
For full disclosure, I am a retired oceanographer. My expertise is not on climate, but as any other good oceanographer, I need to know enough about weather and climate to understand the specific ocean processes I am an expert on. Like me, your expertise is not on climate. But any competent president would have educated himself enough about climate to make wise decisions on an issue that deeply affects the sustainability of the Earth we all share.
Which, of course, you inexcusably failed to do. Or if you did, none of it shows in your words and actions. On November 2012, you tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” This notion of a ‘Chinese Hoax,’ as you eventually came to refer to it, was unambiguously wrong already at the time, and any savvy businessman would know it. But you were a private citizen then, and thus your statements did not carry the imprint of the federal government
Unfortunately, as you aimed at a position of most senior public responsibility, you doubled down on the ‘Chinese hoax.” Inexplicably, enough voters ignored the utter irresponsibility and danger of your views, and elected you. Which allowed you, as president, to announce on June 1, 2017 that the US would withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation. We, you said misleadingly, would begin negotiations to either re-enter the agreement “on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers,” or else form a new agreement.
You proceeded to ignore the broad national and international dismay and condemnation that followed your announcement. Against the advice of wise politicians and industry leaders, and certainly against best available science, you gave formal notice of withdrawal on November 4, 2019. You now plan to consummate the withdraw the day after our upcoming presidential election. Both are the earliest dates when you could legally exercise those options.
Your tenure as president has been an unmitigated disaster. Oblivious to the damage you have caused—on climate, public health, economy, social justice, and so much more—you are seeking re-election, rather than serving your country by resigning. Hopefully, Americans will make you step down on January 20, by giving Joe Biden a landslide victory in November.
Should that happen, the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement. Furthermore—within the Agreement’s framework and working collaboratively with other world leaders and with Congress, decision makers, scientists, and communities,—I expect that Mr. Biden and a cooperative Congress will launch comprehensive mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change. Coupled with smart and sound environmental, social and economic strategies, they will give us the best possible chance to leave our grandkids a thriving economy and a livable planet.
History, will remember your irresponsibility in rendering part of the damage irreversible, by delaying urgent decisions and avoiding time-sensitive measures, thus thwarting the global momentum towards solutions that your predecessor—a competent and caring President—had catalyzed. Some will call your conduct criminal, but I imagine that you will ultimately escape prosecution.
What I cannot imagine, Sir, is what you will answer, when your grandkids ask: “Why, grandpa? Why did you not think of us?”
— Antonio Baptista