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Oil Is the Poison That Burns Paradise, Kills Kashshoggi, Inflames Paris. When Will We Quit?

The blindness of Trump's oil-flooded eyes — rendering the United States the only nation on the planet to reject the Paris climate accord — shouldn't blind us to the fact that the rest of the world is also struggling to transition away from fossil fuels

Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif. Authorities say the fire was 95 percent contained by Thanksgiving Day. Paradise is about 140 miles north of San Francisco. (Photo: NOAH BERGER / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif. Authorities say the fire was 95 percent contained by Thanksgiving Day. Paradise is about 140 miles north of San Francisco. (Photo: NOAH BERGER / ASSOCIATED PRESS) 

The elevator pitch is that global warming should terrify fiscal conservatives because the costs are enormous (wiping out 10 percent of America's gross domestic product, double the hit from the Great Recession of a decade ago), its negative effects are already here in ways that are obvious (the drought-fueled wildfires that killed scores of people in Paradise, Calif.) and not so obvious (the warm-weather spread of ticks that cause Lyme disease), and the impact will only intensify as we get deeper into the 21st century, from California-style wildfires in the U.S. Southeast to trade disruptions as natural disasters around the globe interrupt the supply chain.

Maybe 13 government agencies understand the world is on fire, but the 14th and the only one that matters — the White House — remains in deep denial.

Friday's blunt warning got more attention than most stories about climate change — our slow-motion disaster that never breaks through the 24/7 news cycle of fast-moving ones — but yet the overwhelming reaction was still cynicism and sad resignation, like a cancer diagnosis for a patient that refuses treatment. Maybe 13 government agencies understand the world is on fire, but the 14th and the only one that matters — the White House — remains in deep denial. In a statement accompanying the Black Friday news dump, the White House especially "blamed" the Obama administration for beginning work on a report that was "largely based on the most extreme scenario."

Climate denial is as deeply ingrained in the Trump brand as overpriced steaks and diploma scams — because anything that annoys pointy-headed liberals must be good, because it was something he could lord over Hillary in West Virginia "coal country," and because slippery oil barons and even slipperier Middle Easterm sheikhs are Donald Trump's kind of people. Seeing the devastation of Paradise firsthand isn't going to change his mind — "I want great climate," he babbled afterword — nor is a 1,656-page egghead-scientist report. Instead, Trump recently ridiculed climate science on Twitter.

But what's really so frustrating, if not stunning, about the Trump White House's denial on climate is that all you have to do is watch cable news for a couple of hours — which is pretty much how the president spends his "executive time" every morning — and you can see the ways that oil and other fossil fuels soak both our domestic and foreign policies, in ways that are increasingly poisonous. There will be blood? — to echo the foreboding title of a popular Hollywood movie about early 20th century oil exploration. It's already here.

The most obvious cry for help on global warming is coming right now from Northern California, where the fast-moving Camp Fire turned entire subdivisions in Paradise into grim rectangles of grey rubble in a matter of hours, as those surrounded by flames frantically called and texted their family members to say goodbye. The death toll stands at 85, but officials still don't know how many of the hundreds still listed as missing actually escaped and how many are dead amid the ashy ruin. Experts widely agree that man-made climate change and hotter temperatures have severely exacerbated California's years-long drought, leaving a whopping 129 million dead trees and dry brush that serve as kindling for each new spark.

Trump continues to worship at the altar of 20th century fossil fuels.

And yet Trump continues to worship at the altar of 20th century fossil fuels, and not just here at home where the president's political romance with both struggling Appalachian workers and billionaire energy barons has inspired horrific policy decisions to bring back coal-fired power plants. In the Middle East, there has been blood because the White House has thrown all-in behind the murderous Saudi Arabia regime of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, or MBS — even after the CIA confirmed that MBS ordered his goons to murder and dismember an American resident, Jamal Khashoggi, who was a columnist for the Washington Post.

The United States under Trump has essentially been an accessory to this act of barbaric immorality — there are even reports that we advised MBS on the American way of damage control — because the president still believes that we can't live without the Saudis, or perhaps that he can't get reelected in 2020 without low-priced crude from the Persian Gulf. He tweeted last week on the recent global drop in oil prices and concluded: "Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let's go lower!"

Frankly, I don't think America can get any lower than condoning the killing of a journalist — and thus an attack on all press freedom — by the butcherous Saudi regime. But the blindness of Trump's oil-flooded eyes — rendering the United States the only nation on the planet to reject the Paris climate accord — shouldn't blind us to the fact that the rest of the world is also struggling to transition away from fossil fuels and into safer renewable fuels such as solar and wind power.

Just a day after the devastating U.S. climate assessment broke, the front page of the New York Times reported that Asia's growing giants like India and even China (despite its leadership in solar power) continue an opioid-level addiction to burning coal. And what of world leaders like France's Emmanuel Macron who've pushed climate-change-busting policies like higher taxes on fuel? On Saturday, flaming barricades and violent clashes pockmarked Paris' historic Champs-Elysées as working-class French citizens, some aligned with growing right-wing movements, protested those taxes. This is hardly a surprise to experts who've long predicted that failure to move early and decisively on the climate crisis would ultimately lead to widespread political unrest.

Will there be more blood? Perhaps, but there's also a few tiny rays of hope breaking through the thick smog that seems to be enveloping the world right now. In Washington, Trump will be confronted for the next two years by a Democratic-led House chock full of new members who ran unbeholden to Big Oil and with ambitious ideas for a transition away from fossil fuels. The cynical view is that with Trump in the White House and Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader, this energetic new climate caucus will be tilting at, and not with, windmills. But here's a more optimistic take: The House moves on fossil fuels will set a clear agenda for the future, heighten the contradictions with the GOP's anti-science denialism, and make 2020 a referendum on climate action.

The avatar of this new movement is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and arguably the most progressive of the incoming new members, New York's Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The avatar of this new movement is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and arguably the most progressive of the incoming new members, New York's Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She made a bold and politically risky statement earlier this month when she joined a climate protest outside the office of her probable future boss, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, and she and other newcomers have made a so-called Green New Deal their No. 1 legislative priority, aiming for a select committee to focus on the best policies.

"People are going to die if we don't start addressing climate change ASAP," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Friday after the climate assessment came out. "It's not enough to think it's 'important.' We must make it urgent." She added that it's time for people with ties to the fossil fuel industry to stop writing climate policy — a reality that may not happen, unfortunately, until January 2021.

From the flaming embers of Paradise to the Saudi crime scene in Istanbul to chaos on the boulevards of Paris, oil and its aging cousin coal have become the poisons not just rendering our air unbreathable but increasingly inspiring wars, murder and mayhem. It's a regime that's even less morally sustainable than those of MBS or his No. 1 cheerleader, Trump. Despite the president's blather, we don't need to Make Climate Great Again. We just need to make climate normal again. But we're running out of time.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Will Bunch

Will Bunch

Will Bunch is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and author of its popular blog Attytood.

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