The banner headline on Page One of this morning’s New York Times couldn’t have been more stark: “FOR THIRD YEAR, THE EARTH IN 2016 SETS HEAT RECORD: Threat to Society and Nature Is Rising – Scale of Shift Startles Scientists.”
The bitter irony is that the new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration occurred simultaneously as Scott Pruitt’s confirmation hearing before a Senate committee to become the next head of the EPA. In his opening statement, the Oklahoma Attorney General said: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and human activity in some manner impacts that change. The human ability to measure with precision the extent of that impact is subject to continuing debate and dialogue, as well they should be.”
Tell that to the people of Mitribah, Kuwait, who suffered the hottest day ever recorded in Asia last July at 129.2 degrees. Or the 2,400 people whose homes were destroyed by a raging wildfire in Alberta, Canada. Or the thousands in southern Africa facing starvation from a two-year drought. Or the native peoples of the Arctic, where temperatures last fall reached an astonishing 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.
Sixteen of the seventeen warmest years ever recorded have happened since 2001.
I don’t usually watch congressional hearings, but tuned in to C-Span for a portion of Pruitt’s. He refused to say whether he’d recuse himself from taking part in fourteen pending lawsuits against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a state effort that he personally spearheaded. Most alarming of all, Pruitt said he wouldn’t commit to retaining a decades-old federal waiver that permits progressive places like California to establish emissions standards on cars and trucks stronger than other states have. Since 2009, since manufacturers were forced to make more efficient vehicles, California has slashed its greenhouse gas emissions by almost a third – and over a dozen other states have adopted the same standard. It seems that Pruitt is all for “state’s rights” – except when these get in the way of fossil fuel production.
It’s also painfully ironic that, on this same day, China announced it was canceling over a hundred coal-fired power plants, the biggest source of global warming and air pollution. China has become the world’s leading clean energy investor. Early in January, the country’s energy agency vowed it would spend more than $360 billion on renewables like solar and wind by 2020, while creating 13 million jobs.
The day before Pruitt’s hearing and the latest climate report, even Saudi Arabia said it would solicit bids for a “massive” move toward renewable energy, spending as much as $50 billion to source at least 10 gigawatts of electricity by 2023 from solar and wind.
No doubt about it, they’re playing their trump card.