The state of our dying planet

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

A full 90 minutes after his speech began, Donald Trump descended from the podium amid cheers from the right side of the chamber and tight-lipped grimaces from the left. He had just finished a State of the Union address that was a bizarre mix of a call for national unity and a campaign rally. He praised the accomplishments of women, declared the need for lower prescription costs and began the long process of enacting meaningful criminal justice reform. These bipartisan goals were matched with threats to strip women of their right to choose, relentlessly persecute undocumented immigrants and halt investigations into the criminal investigations of his own administration.

But, among all of these talking points, in the hour and a half the president addressed the nation, he never once mentioned climate change. He never once mentioned the Americans losing their homes and their lives because of extreme weather. The president never once mentioned the state of our planet.

Our planet is dying. Ecosystems are being destroyed, the ozone layer is disappearing and it’s taking a toll on all of us. We can no longer ignore how human consumption has created and now perpetuates that harm. It’s no longer the pandas and the trees that are disappearing, it’s our neighbors.

Just last week, a brutal polar vortex hit the Midwest when arctic winds collided with hot air over the warming oceans. This storm sent temperatures plunging colder than the surface of Mars and gave anyone exposed to the air for even five minutes frostbite. This extreme cold is not new, and if we don’t act, it’s not ending. 78 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and the extreme cold raises the cost of heating homes and contributes to financial ruin. As those living in financial stress save their pennies, Americans experiencing homelessness are freezing to death. More than 20 individuals lost their lives during the polar vortex, including elderly individuals, who were especially vulnerable.

Our president’s response? Mocking “global warming” on Twitter.

The polar vortex is only the most recent example of the human cost of climate change. Rising sea levels are threatening homes and businesses in coastal states. As the sea water seeps inland, it will contaminate our drinking water and interfere with irrigation systems.

Generations of people living in Florida and North Carolina are watching their way of life disappear. In Charleston, the number of days that flooding occurred on the coast increased from four to 50 in 2016, causing millions of dollars in damages to a city that survives on tourism. This problem is only going to get worse. By 2100, it is estimated that there will be $14 trillion in damages to the coast, to say nothing about the death toll.

Our president’s response? Say nothing.

The state of our planet is dying, and it’s taking people down with it.  As many as 100 people are killed annually by floods and hurricanes, an average that has been steadily increasing for the last 30 years. In 2018 alone, natural disasters cost our country $155 billion in damages, another number that has been steadily increasing as weather patterns become more extreme and more dangerous. The people who are affected by these disasters are those who can’t afford to leave. Preparing a home for a hurricane costs anywhere from $200 to $4,500, a horrifyingly high cost for Americans already struggling to put food on the table. Insurance policies for flood damages and other disasters are prohibitively expensive propositions, and rebuilding after tragedy is even more costly.

Our president’s response? Directing funds from disaster relief to fund a border wall.

Human behavior perpetuates this cyclical damage to our planet, but human behavior remains the only way to fix it. Our nation fails to uphold policies that would slow down the speed of climate destruction. In fact, since taking office in 2016, the Trump administration has actively rolled back climate protections that had been working to protect Americans across the country. The EPA estimates that from a single power plant 400 miles north of Houston, 180 people die prematurely each year from pollutants in the air spewed there by coal-burning plants. The number of these plants operating in Texas dramatically decreased under Obama-era regulations, saving both the planet and lives. Additional regulations could have prevented 120 premature deaths per year and 1,300 cases of bronchitis.

Our president’s response? Rolling back these regulations.

Climate change affects those in poverty at disproportionately high rates and is harming American citizens. We can’t ignore the effects of a warming planet any longer. There is only one word to describe Donald Trump’s choice to omit any mention of this threat: irresponsible. Our president can continue to claim that the United States has the “hottest economy” in the world, but how will it last if our planet is heating up even faster?

Sam Peters is a junior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major. She is a guest writer from Aurora, Ill.