Louisiana and the Age of Superstorms
August 22, 2016
If it had been a hurricane, last week’s flood in Louisiana would have been the seventh most damaging cyclone to hit the US in history. But it was not a hurricane.
Welcome to a climate altered planet.
A disaster area is no place for political theater. The governor of flood-ravaged Louisiana asked President Obama to postpone a personal visit while relief efforts were still underway. (Meanwhile, by all accounts, the substantive federal response has been infinitely superior to the Bush administration’s response to Katrina.) He made the same request to Donald Trump, declaring, reasonably, that while aid would be welcome, a visit for the sake of a photo op would not.
Sure enough, the G.O.P. candidate flew in, shook some hands, signed some autographs, and was filmed taking boxes of Play-Doh out of a truck. If he wrote a check, neither his campaign nor anyone else has mentioned it. Heckuva job, Donnie!
But boorish, self-centered behavior is the least of it. By far the bigger issue is that even as Mr. Trump made a ham-handed (and cheapskate) effort to exploit Louisiana’s latest disaster for political gain, he continued to stake out a policy position that will make such disasters increasingly frequent.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that when it comes to climate change, as with so many issues, Mr. Trump has gone deep down the rabbit hole, asserting not just that global warming is a hoax, but that it’s a hoax concocted by the Chinese to make America less competitive.
The thing is, he’s not alone in going down that rabbit hole. On other issues Republicans may try to claim that their presidential nominee doesn’t speak for the party that nominated him. We’re already hearing claims that Mr. Trump isn’t a true conservative, indeed that he’s really a liberal, or anyway that liberals are somehow responsible for his rise. (My favorite theory here, one that has quite a few advocates, is that I personally caused Trumpism by being nasty to Mitt Romney.)
But when it comes to denial of climate change and the deployment of bizarre conspiracy theories to explain away the evidence, Mr. Trump is squarely in the Republican mainstream. He may be talking nonsense, but anyone his party was likely to nominate would have been talking pretty much the same nonsense.
It’s interesting to ask why climate denial has become not just acceptable but essentially required within the G.O.P. Yes, the fossil-fuel sector is a big donor to the party. But the vehemence of the hostility to climate science seems disproportionate even so; bear in mind that, for example, at this point there are fewer than 60,000 coal miners, that is, less than 0.05 percent of the work force. What’s happening, I suspect, is that climate denial has become a sort of badge of right-wing identity, above and beyond the still-operative motive of rewarding donors.