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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

President Barack Obama’s visit to flood-ravaged Louisiana didn’t assuage those critics who lambasted him for his failure to come earlier, but he didn’t expect it to. As he noted while there, “This is not a photo-op issue. This is how do you make sure that (months) from now, people still are getting the help that they need?”

The president has learned to live with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune — as well as the outrageous accusations of his arrow-slinging detractors. It goes with the territory.

Still, it’s no surprise that Republican nominee Donald Trump attempted to gain electoral advantage over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, an Obama ally, by visiting Louisiana before the president did. Trump gained positive press coverage and accolades, not only from his GOP allies, but also from a stalwart Democrat, Louisiana native James Carville.

“Donald Trump came — thank you, Donald Trump. He gave $100,000 to a church in Greenwell Springs. It was very effective,” Carville said in an appearance on Fox News.

But those who are genuinely concerned about the catastrophe in southern Louisiana ought to be grateful to the president for his leadership on at least one issue: climate change. (They should also be grateful for a well-run, high-functioning Federal Emergency Management Agency, but that’s another column.) While the experts rarely link a single event to global warming — and climate scientists have not said that it caused the devastating Louisiana floods — they point to increased rainfall and flooding as a likely result of a warmer climate.

As president, Obama has done more to mitigate climate change than any of his predecessors. Unable to budge a recalcitrant Congress, he nevertheless has managed to push through tightened vehicle emissions standards as well as stricter regulations for coal-fired power plants. He also helped lead the successful effort to secure a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Trump, by contrast, has joined up with the flat-earth Republican chorus that insists climate change is a “hoax.” As the imaginative GOP nominee once tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Tell that to the Californians who are suffering through the fifth year of a severe drought — with not only acute water shortages, but also devastating wildfires. Tell that to the Brazilians and Central Americans who are living through the Zika epidemic, believed to be spread by mosquitoes, which breed more easily in a warming climate. Tell that to the leaders of the Marshall Islands, who worry that their nation may not exist in a few decades because of rising oceans caused by warmer temperatures.

Climatologists say the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998. Last year took the medal for all-time high, but scientists now believe 2016 will best that record.

Warmer temperatures lead not only to more devastating droughts, but also, counter-intuitively, to more rainfall in certain areas. That’s because warmer air is capable of holding more moisture.

By any measure, the rainfall and resulting flooding that struck a wide swath of southern Louisiana earlier this month was historic. The storm occurred over several days and didn’t attract the attention that meteorologists give to major weather events such as Hurricane Katrina.

But experts are calling it the worst natural disaster in the United States since Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast in 2012. (The damage from Sandy was also exacerbated by climate change, which created more flooding because of rising oceans.) Neighborhoods believed to be safely outside the floodplain were inundated with water. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless, and more than a dozen were killed.

And while Louisiana has seen the worst flooding of late, it’s not the only state that has suffered. Five other states — Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia — have all experienced severe flooding in the last 15 months. Those hundred-year events are coming with increasing frequency.

Trump, like his fellow Republicans, will continue to deny that climate change has anything to do with the severe weather events that just keep on coming. His visit to Louisiana, then, is much like the rest of his campaign: an episode from an un-reality show.

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

Photo: A woman nuzzles her son as they wait to show U.S. President Barack Obama their flood-damaged home as he tours their neighborhood in Zachary, Louisiana, U.S., August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst