President Trump is considering raiding money from relief funds designated for victims of storms and wildfires exacerbated by climate change, in a last-ditch attempt to get money for his dubious border wall, according to numerous news accounts.
The president, who denies the actual climate crisis, would in effect be taking money from its victims to escape the consequences of his own manufactured, government-shutdown crisis—all to build a border wall that experts say will be ineffective and even counter-productive in improving border security.
Meanwhile, the costs in American lives and money of climate change impacts happening right now–including more damaging hurricanes, bigger more intense wildfires, sea-level rise, and the spread of infectious disease–are growing exponentially, as are the huge costs of the government shutdown Trump has caused.
In all, Congress has passed more than $130 billion in emergency spending related to climate change since September 2017. That’s nearly one-quarter of the non-defense discretionary budget of the entire US government. Indeed, Trump’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that “cumulative cost of the 16 separate billion-dollar weather events in the U.S. in 2017 was $306.2 billion.
Remarkably, the appropriations bills that Trump’s wall obsession is preventing from becoming law contain tens of billions of dollars more in climate-related disaster relief, including for victims of 2017 and 2018 hurricanes and wildfires, a fact that has gone unreported.
Continuing the pattern of ad hoc funding for disasters made worse by climate change represents trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities ranging over the next 75 years, on par with the looming Social Security shortfalls. In December 2016, the Office of Management and Budget released a report warning of tens of billions in additional costs from wildfires, crop insurance, flood insurance, health care spending and other impacts related to climate change, with as much as “15 percent of total federal discretionary spending by late-century,” caused by climate change, OMB said
Yet instead of taking action to address climate change crisis and its costs, Trump is actually rolling back key climate protections at every chance, overturning major rules to cut emissions from power plants, vehicles, oil and gas development and many other areas.
Apparently, the White House just views this all as a political game. A senior administration official admitted to the New York Times that the plan to raid money from disaster aid could be restricted by the relevant law, the Stafford Act, but suggested that the attempt was in part intended to threaten projects Democrats valued. Thus, Trump is simply using disaster victims as pawns in the government shutdown game, just as he is using federal workers and the broader economy.
One wonders when the American people are going to tire of Trump risking the economy and public safety simply to indulge his bizarre political schemes. To date, the shutdown has already forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay and put benefits for millions more in jeopardy. By tomorrow, the government shutdown will be the longest in American history.
Trump’s responses to five record-breaking major hurricanes to hit the U.S. in the last 14 months have been similarly cavalier and condescending. Unbelievably, Trump directly lied about the deaths of thousands of American citizens, ignoring fact-filled studies showing that thousands died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria last year due to losses of electricity, among other problems, at hospitals and elsewhere.
Yet peer-reviewed studies have found that as much as 40% or 20 inches of Hurricane Harvey’s record rain was due to much warmer Gulf of Mexico temperatures due to climate change, and similar studies have found that other recent hurricanes were also made more destructive because of underlying climate change. Climate change is also increasing the size, scope and costs of wildfires. Today more than half of the entire US Forest Service budget is burned up just fighting wildfires; in 1990 fires consumed only 15% of those costs. And leading researchers find that climate change is a key reason US wildfires now burn twice the forest area they did in 1984.
Make no mistake, border security is important. Both Democrats and Republican have said so and have serious plans to address it. But Trump’s dubious border wall isn’t about border security, it’s a desperate attempt to salvage a false campaign pledge and escape his own self-inflicted government shutdown.
Never mind that both the shutdown and the climate crisis are hurting average Americans every day, costing lives and hurting our economy. Trump just doesn’t care.