“The Best” is Yet to Come: Denial, Privatization, Inaction

by Monica Medina and Miro Korenha, co-founders and publishers, Our Daily Planet

 

While it’s now become a part of meme infamy, Kimberly Guilfoyle’s 2020 Republican National Convention speech made the argument that in America, through a second term of the Trump presidency, “the best is yet to come.” As the GOP’s convention followed that of the Democrats which touched on the looming threat of the climate crisis each night, it was clear that Republicans weren’t willing to even discuss the scant climate action ideas they’ve previously put forward. 

Worse yet, Republicans didn’t create a new party platform this year opting instead to use theirs from 2016 which largely categorized climate change as overblown. As a result, when the massive category 4 Hurricane Laura charged toward Louisiana and wildfires ravaged the entire state of California just as the Republican convention was airing, neither the President nor his party had any comfort or vision for a better future to offer the victims of climate change. 

In fact, after 90 speakers took their turn at the convention, there wasn’t a single mention of climate change except to ridicule Joe Biden’s climate action plan and mock moves by Democratic governors to push for 100% renewable energy. We can speculate, but this might have something to do with the fact that fossil fuel special interests are bankrolling President Trump’s reelection campaign

With the Trump administration, it is, in the end, all about the money — even when it comes to climate change and weather forecasts. They ignored the wildfire and hurricane crises – poorly timed to make an entrance during their Republican convention. Though there was a photo op Thursday at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the hard-working folks from National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, who had provided the life-saving storm warnings (describing it as “unsurvivable” and “catastrophic”) were nowhere to be found. Written out of the RNC’s script – it was not supposed to be a disaster film.  

In his book entitled The Fifth Risk, which is all about Trump’s mismanagement of the government during the first two years, author Michael Lewis explains what should be obvious after a devastating storm like Laura. The three most important agencies in the federal government when it comes to its most basic function, protecting American lives and property, are the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Weather Service (NWS).  It is hard to see the value of the NWS – most people, as Lewis points out, believe that weather forecasts come from TV news and weather apps on their phones – private corporations. 

 But none of this would be possible without the NWS – this small but dedicated government agency actually makes all the forecasts on which the private weather services and media outlets depend. And although the private forecasters make detailed storm warnings – they only provide those to their big corporate customers who pay big bucks to get them. The President and the Secretary of Commerce (who sits over the NWS) are just fine with that. In fact, if they had had their way, as Lewis recounts in detail in the book, the Trump Administration would have put the CEO of the largest private weather company, AccuWeather, Barry Meyer, in charge of NOAA. AccuWeather is a privately held family corporation – so his incentive was to weaken his “competitor” – the NWS, so his company could make a larger profit selling “better” forecasts. 

Of course, his entire business enterprise rests on using the government’s weather data, which he gets for free (as can anyone with a big enough computer) and turning it into forecasts to sell to you as apps on your phone or to your business.  You might recall that Meyers’ company got in hot water a few years back for selling the public data they collected about their app users, even though the users had not given the company permission to do so. But the Trump team stuck with his nomination until he asked them to withdraw it late last year.  

Lewis makes a strong case in the book about the value of the NWS to the public, and why it should NEVER be run by anyone who has a financial interest in seeing it weakened. The Trump administration has succeeded at weakening climate and weather science by removing much of the public’s access to weather and climate data that the Obama administration had made available to everyone.  Indeed, we need more and better weather and climate information and to make it public so that the best minds in business, government, and academia can further improve our forecasts of severe storms like Laura. For the benefit of everyone. Not just the corporations who want to profit from it, and the ones who can afford to pay for it. 

We’ve also seen this crony favoritism echoed in President’s Trump’s spending priorities where he’s proposed cutting nearly a billion dollars from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (OEERE) at the US Department of Energy, while eagerly promoting the taxpayer bailout of the U.S. oil industry from the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s “A Budget for a Better America” wanted to slash funding for the widely supported ARPA-E, an agency focused on researching and developing future energy technology that benefits all Americans. America’s energy and technology innovation is part of what makes this nation great, and the President has shown that he doesn’t want to invest in the clean energy future that can help save lives from pollution. 

As John Oliver put it, “everything Trump does is designed to destroy the government from the inside.” That’s what we have to look forward to if Trump gets another turn. Climate change is fueling massive storms and wildfires and we’ll have fewer government resources to protect ourselves. And as for the solutions to climate change–our biggest existential threat? Forget about it. The Trump administration isn’t interested in investing in a habitable future, even as scientists have stressed the urgency of taking action. We know what’s to come if we don’t address the crisis before us, and it’s as far from “the best” as we can get.

 

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