Hurricanes Hit US as White House Keeps Pushing Climate Change Denial

By Deirdre Fanzo

From left to right, Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose. Photo courtesy of CHIPS Magazine.

On Oct. 23, Nicaragua announced it would join the Paris Agreement, a global pact to combat climate change, leaving the U.S. and Syria as the lone holdouts from the accord. The statement came five weeks after the Trump administration reaffirmed it would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, a decision first announced in June. Over this five-week period, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands and much of the mainland U.S. were struck by a series of record-breaking storms. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have caused billions of dollars in damage, and wreaked havoc on the lives of residents in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and many nations in Central America. Despite this devastation, the Trump administration continues to vehemently deny the existence of climate change, further isolating the U.S. from global efforts to address it. 

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris climate accord “Brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.” This collaboration amongst countries was designed to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and seek clean power sources to prevent global temperatures from increasing to dangerous levels. In April 2016, then-president Barack Obama signed this accord. However, in June 2017, Trump declared his intention to rescind this decision on the grounds that it “disadvantages the United States.” However, many analysts argue that one underlying reason for his move was his administration’s very public climate change denial, and the political leverage this affords it with certain constituents.

Rabab AlAjmi, an environmental science and political science double major at Lehman, emphasized the political and economic factors behind Trump’s decision. “Countries run by capitalism...have pretty much swept [climate change] under the rug,” she said. This is precisely what Trump’s administration is doing.

“We need to take responsibility [for the planet] and think beyond our pocketbooks and our net worth.” 

– Stefan Becker, Vice Provost for Academic Programs

It is in the administration’s best interest to deny climate change, as they have a history of mutual gain with corporate energy giants. Indeed, prior to assuming his current role, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the largest multinational oil and gas corporations in the world. ExxonMobil, under Tillerson, “gave $1.8 million this election cycle.” Trump himself owned stocks in the Dakota Access Pipeline, and though he sold them after his election, the investment reflects his values. According to the Washington Post, “three politicians Trump has appointed to relevant Cabinet positions have taken in large campaign contributions from the energy sector.” Policies supported by the climate agreement, as well as confirming the existence of climate change, would almost certainly limit industry profits---the capital gains of the current administration. 

The administration’s denial of climate change, however, flies in the face of scientific consensus. “Man-made climate change is a concept that is accepted by 97 percent of scientists today,” AlAjmi said.

Indeed, the recent tight cluster of deadly hurricanes---Harvey, a Category 4 storm when it hit Texas on Aug. 25, and Irma, between Category 3 and Category 4 when it wreaked havoc in the Virgin Islands and Florida---is a “textbook case for what you would expect under climate change scenarios,” Stefan Becker, vice provost for academic programs at Lehman, told the Meridian. Harvey was considered the strongest hurricane to hit the mainland U.S. since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Irma usurped this title soon afterward, followed by Hurricane Maria, which caused great devastation in Puerto Rico and is regarded as the strongest hurricane of 2017 thus far. 

In light of the evidence, Becker called Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord “unbelievable” and “reckless.” He added, “We need to take responsibility [for the planet] and think beyond our pocketbooks and our net worth.”