If we keep burning coal and petroleum to power our society, we’re cooked — and a lot faster than we thought. The United Nations scientific panel on climate change issued a terrifying new warning on Monday that continued emissions of greenhouse gases from power plants and vehicles will bring dire and irreversible changes by 2040, years earlier than previously forecast. The cost will be measured in trillions of dollars and in sweeping societal and environmental damage, including mass die-off of coral reefs and animal species, flooded coastlines, intensified droughts, food shortages, mass migrations and deeper poverty.
The worst impacts can be avoided only by a “far-reaching and unprecedented” transformation of the global energy system, including virtually eliminating the use of coal as a source of electricity, the panel warned.
Yet President Trump, who has questioned the accepted scientific consensus on climate change, continues to praise “clean beautiful coal” and has directed his Environmental Protection Agency to reverse major strides undertaken by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. This is unbelievably reckless. In addition to undermining the fight against climate change, the president’s efforts to prop up the dirtiest of all fuels will also exact a significant toll on public health, on the hearts and lungs of ordinary Americans.
The E.P.A.’s bedrock mission is to protect public health and welfare. Its basic tools are 50 years of federal clean air and water laws meant to limit Americans’ exposure to environmental poisons and pollutants.