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GOP, boomers let down young Americans on climate

By Jack Bernard

Bernard is a retired corporate executive.

Donald Trump responded to the California wildfires and climate change by saying, “I don’t think science knows, actually”; “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” Prior to the current Trump Pandemic disaster, which has changed all our lives and priorities dramatically, a Pew Research national priority survey was taken in January. That survey showed that, for the first time, both climate change (53%) and the environment (64%) were top policy priorities for the American public. In fact, the environment had overtaken both jobs (52%) and the deficit (53%) during the last three years.

Only terrorism (74%), the economy (67%), healthcare costs (67%) and education (67%) rated higher concerns. Among Democrats, the environment was more important (85%) than any of these priorities. On the other hand, only 39% of Republicans rated it as a top priority. The difference in partisan attitudes was even more extreme for climate change, with 78% of Democrats rating it a top priority versus 21% of Republicans. We have Trump making sarcastic remarks versus taking the environmental crisis seriously. His base is with him.

One can also look at the difference in views by age. For example, only 45% of those over 65 viewed climate change as a priority, versus 61% of those aged 18-29. And, 55% of those over 65 viewed the environment as a priority, versus 77% of those 18-29.

Trump has made a concerted effort to gut research into climate change and the environment. He has appointed people to assist him in achieving his goals. To use a “down home” example, former Governor Sonny Perdue who is now Secretary of Agriculture.

Perdue is known for responding to a question about climate change by saying that it’s just “weather patterns…it rained yesterday, it’s a nice pretty day today” and that “we don’t know” why the climate is changing and that some scientists say it’s not due to human behavior.

Among other things, Sonny has gone about cutting staff at the Economic Research Service, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It’s no coincidence that these Ag agencies provide objective analysis of and funding for climate research projects regarding its effect on agriculture.

But Agriculture is not the only department substituting politics for science. The EPA has also dissolved advisory boards, opening the way for greater influence by self-serving businesses and their lobbyists.

Among Trump’s “achievements” have been rolling back or blocking regulations which control coal plant emissions, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, curb pollution from air conditioners and refrigerators, limit methane gas and lessen vehicle emissions.

Trump was also withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, the primary international treaty designed to get major powers to work together to lessen human impact causing climate change. The result is that we look foolish to our allies, which now see China and the European Union moving ahead while we go backward.

The truth is that for most people over 65, there will not be enough environmental changes within their lifetimes to cause major disruptions in their lives. Certainly not like what the pandemic has caused. But what of their children and grandchildren, like UGA’s students? Have seniors seriously thought of the impact of pollution and the destruction of our atmosphere, land and seas? When they watch the fires, do they relate it to environmental change? It’s doubtful. Obviously, it’s past time for them to wake up before the breaking point is reached.

Or, as Dr. Jerry Atkin, former head of the UGA-Griffin branch told me: “The West Coast is a bonfire, glaciers melting, ice sheets the size of states sliding into the ocean, hurricanes wreaking havoc on the coastline. Climate change is at work in every aspect of life on this planet. It’s science, not a Democratic hoax. It’s time for seniors to do a retrospective introspection of their efforts to leave this planet a better place for their children than the one left them. They should be ashamed of their legacy.”

I personally believe Trump’s failure to put science before politics in the pandemic lead to his defeat. At least with Biden, we will have a logical, rational leader who will try his best to limit climate change.