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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

MOBILE, ALABAMA — There has been no need to unpack the winter clothes this year because we haven’t had winter. My second-grader goes to school every morning wearing a cardigan, but she greets me in the afternoon in short sleeves.

Here on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, we’ve had an endless spring of balmy, sunny weeks that were punctuated by a couple of days of January frost. On Christmas Day, Mobile recorded a historic high temperature of 80 degrees, which broke the record of 79 degrees that was set the year before, according to the National Weather Service.

So it goes across planet Earth. Last year was the hottest year on record, beating the record set in 2015. And 2015 topped the record set in 2014, according to NASA. Scientists say that this is the first time that temperature records have been broken three years in a row.

Down here, the sunny days are pleasant enough, but they portend calamity. There is no greater threat facing humankind than global warming. For all the time spent worrying about jihadist terrorists and Mexican criminals, they don’t constitute an existential threat to humanity. Climate change does.

The scientific consensus is clear: Soaring temperatures, caused by human activity, have dire consequences. Among those are more frequent extreme weather events, including droughts, flooding, wildfires, and severe storms. The United States has already experienced flooding and droughts, from the Gulf Coast to California, that foretell things to come.

But poorer countries, as seems to be their fate, will fare even worse, even though the wealthier countries — with their automobiles, air conditioning, and jet planes — have done the most to warm the planet. Droughts will likely be more severe in countries such as Ethiopia; the Maldives and the Marshall Islands may be swamped by rising sea levels and cease to exist, scientists say.

Of course, President Donald Trump has famously said that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. But the real danger that Trump represents comes not from his unhinged declarations, but from the policies that will characterize his administration. He has announced his intention to overturn several Obama-era environmental regulations, including one that bans new coal mining leases on federal lands.

Worse still is his stewardship of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump has named Scott Pruitt, a climate-change skeptic who wants to destroy the EPA, as its director. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt was in league with fossil-fuel giants whose goal was to defy every conceivable government regulation so they could pillage the planet as they pleased, recently released emails show. That includes the billionaire Koch brothers, who have done much to bend politics to their laissez-faire liking.

Pruitt and his allies would have you believe that the science on climate change is still in doubt, that the clamor over climate change is just noise from a group of leftist malcontents. Really? Consider the consensus from two groups that are hardly known for their liberal leanings.

The first is the property and casualty insurance industry, which conducts research to try to limit its losses from property damage. Last year, the Center for Insurance Policy and Research cited a study that found that “extreme weather events (such as prolonged droughts, hurricanes, floods, and severe storms) led to $560 billion in insured losses from 1980 to 2015. Experts predict climate change will continue to intensify the frequency and severity of these types of weather-related events.”

The second group that defies characterization as a bunch of tree-hugging leftists is the Department of Defense, which has described climate change as a “threat multiplier.” According to the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, “The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies and governance institutions around the world.”

When poorer countries are devastated by climate change — when droughts are frequent and severe and water and food are scarce — people will leave, seeking refuge in wealthier countries. The tides of refugees will not be held back, no matter how many walls we build.

That’s no hoax.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

IMAGE: Greenpeace