In SOTU (& the Response), Climate Change Isn't There

Both President, and the Democrat Who Responded To Him, Leave Environment Out of It

Image result for trump abrams
by Charles Ellison | Publisher’s Riff | @ellisonreport

For the current President of the United States, not referencing “climate change,” “the environment,” or even “pollution” in his State of the Union is somewhat expected. It wasn’t mentioned in his first 2017 address before Congress - in fact, only the “environment of lawless chaos” was of greater concern. Neither did it show up in the 2018 State of the Union. Considering Trump’s callous disregard for the existence of frequent climate change-induced natural disasters, there’s no surprise. There is also little surprise, given the president’s coziness with fossil fuel producers and a wide range of serial polluters, that he wouldn’t mention air or water quality as necessary priorities.

Still, it remains particularly jarring and troubling that a sitting U.S. president, known - by office - as the most powerful person on the planet in a position to move the needle on climate crisis response, casually omits climate change or a discussion on the environment from his key address of the year. That puts the nation in a very precarious and uncertain position, one filled with too many unknowns and a very weak sense of how the country should respond to mounting environmental and ecological threats. The State of the Union just happened less than a week after a massive polar vortex - clearly a red-alert sign of climate crisis - completely froze massive parts of the country, and killed nearly two dozen (that we know of), and left millions in a state of pure elemental fear. If that wasn’t as clear a sign of what’s to come, and if that’s not enough to prompt reaction from “the Leader of the Free World” then what will?

A Trump State Burden

Interestingly enough, it’s red states that supported Trump which carry the economic burden of climate impact, according to Brookings

Figure 1

Neither Did The Democrats’ Response

Unfortunately, Trump was not alone in that de-prioritization of climate change and the environment.

As bizarre was former Georgia gubernatorial Democratic nominee Stacey Abram’s mentioning it just once in a five word sentence: “Take action on climate change.” But climate change is not the only pressing environmental issue. Still, Abrams failed to acknowledge, even once, the environment or even anything remotely referencing air quality, water quality or pollution and the resulting public health crises. That quick glossing over of the subject should be worrisome. It first gives the impression that Democrats don’t view the subject as a major priority, when, indeed, most of their voters do and there is an uprising of progressives who want it front and center.

Abrams also missed a key opportunity, as a Black women in a state with a population that’s 35 percent Black, to address topics that are of tremendous importance to a national Black population that is disproportionately suffering from the effects of climate change and environmental degradation as we speak. Roughly a quarter of the entire U.S. Black population is concentrated in the five Gulf of Mexico states that absorb hurricanes - as we continue to see, per Michelle Klug in Al-Jazeera

… and there are high concentrations of Black communities throughout other Atlantic coastal states (including Georgia) who are largely unprepared to respond to these crises and will most likely face the most displacement and danger. It’s strange this topic and others - including the heavy impact of pollution on Black communities - didn’t get any highlight from Abrams. The omission speaks to a continued lack of awareness within Black political, media and pop culture circles regarding matters of the environment and the false narrative that Black communities are not the most important demographic in that discussion.

Is the Public Prioritizing It, Though?

Maybe, maybe not. The Pew Research Center’s recent survey of American attitudes on key issues prior to the State of the Union shows that even if the public is aware of how much danger the environment is in, it’s not worried enough to apply pressure on the national discourse and leaders. The economy, healthcare and terrorism show up as the top concerns

Economy, health care and terrorism among top public priorities, as concerns over jobs and deficit fade

While the environment barely breaks into the top 10 … and climate change ranks at the very bottom …

Public's policy priorities for 2019

Hence, it’s not like Republicans or Democrats are hearing these are urgent issues, despite the ongoing crisis unfolding right before our eyes and tainting every breath we take or glass of water we drink.