Many University of Michigan students and Michigan residents are quick to criticize our state’s climate — bitter cold winters, short summers and even shorter springs and autumns make it hard to enjoy the parts of the year we appreciate most. Though the cold is easy to complain about, Michiganders, or Midwesterners broadly, should consider themselves blessed. Blessed because we often do not have to experience firsthand the catastrophic effects of natural disasters fueled by our changing climate. Californians, however, cannot share the same level of safety. 

Over the past month, California, along with Oregon and Washington, has been facing an unprecedented burst of wildfires across the state. On Sept. 27 alone, the state was battling 25 major wildfires at once, calling for 17,000 firefighters on the front lines to help diminish the spread and magnitude of the blaze.

The history of California wildfires foreshadows a frightening trend. From 2001 to 2010, there was a total of 7.03 million acres of land burned by fires. From 2010 to 2020, the number increased to 10.8 million acres. In 2020 alone, however, there have been 3.2 million acres of land burned by over 7,900 fires. The area of land burned in one year equates to almost 1/3 of the total land burned in the last decade, leaving behind ashes and ruins that sum to roughly the same area as the state of Connecticut.

Though September marks the beginning of fall and cooler temperatures, scientists predict that these fires will persist through October. The numbers continue to rise. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to remain silent in response to the fires. Other than President Donald Trump’s issuance of a major disaster declaration on Aug. 22 in response to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request, Trump has not shown any support for combatting this continuing disaster.

Instead, he has shown ignorance and an appalling lack of leadership during a roundtable with federal, state and local officials of California. Wade Crowfoot, secretary of California Natural Resources Agency, pleaded Trump to “recognize the changing climate and what it means to (California’s) forests” and to “actually work together with that science.” 

We would like to imagine that our president would address this concern with respect and cooperation. But Trump’s response conveyed the exact opposite. 

“Ok, it’ll start getting cooler,” Trump scoffed. “You just watch.” 

But will it? Noah Diffenbaugh, climate scientist at Stanford University, completely denied this claim in his response to the statement, noting that “we have very clear evidence that California is warming. There is no scientific evidence that California is on the cusp of a long-term cooling trend.” 

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of California residents. Twenty-six people are dead. More than 6,400 structures were destroyed. And what does our nation’s leader decide is an appropriate response to a state official’s cry for help? To tell him to “just watch.”

This is not the first time our president has utterly neglected the science behind climate change, and we as morally-conscious citizens need to make sure that this will be the last of it. Election Day is less than two months away, and we must elect a leader who will prioritize our health and safety, the generations to come and the world as we know it. 

Trump does not just deny climate change. He fuels it. Over the past few years of his term, Trump has made many executive orders that roll back regulations aimed to limit pollution and protect the environment. To name a few, he loosened offshore drilling safety rules that were implemented after the disastrous BP oil explosion in 2010; in April 2019, he signed two executive pipeline orders, one of which gives him the authority to “issue, deny or amend” permits for pipelines that cross international borders; one month earlier, he approved drilling for the controversial Keystone pipeline; he appointed Andrew Wheeler as the EPA administrator in February 2019, a former coal lobbyist who has undone Obama-era regulations on coal power plant emissions since taking the position. The list goes on.

Clearly, for Trump, the economic success of energy corporations is a higher priority than protecting the natural resources that these companies exploit. Despite his track record of rolling back regulations aimed to limit environmental damage caused by corporate drilling and pollution, he attempts to disguise this developing disaster by convincing the public that the United States is excelling in air and water purity — he made a remark in the past year that “we have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it’s gotten better since I’m president.” This claim has been proven false.

Trump also said that proper forest management, specifically a “rake” of forest floors to remove dry debris, would make the fires on the West Coast completely cease. This statement, as well, was also proven false. 

Clearly, what we have here is a leader who contributes to the factors that diminish the health of our natural resources, but fails to acknowledge the devastation that results. Instead, he attempts to conceal his lack of environmental leadership with fabricated remarks and suggestions. The Scientific American endorsed Joe Biden for a reason. For the sake of our environment, we cannot allow another term of the Trump presidency.

Though we may feel safe in Michigan, climate change threatens everyone. Despite other reasons to support or turn against Trump, we need to focus on his lacking approach to environmental protection. Our environment has already undergone much damage, but it’s not too late to make a change. The first step of that change is to cast our ballots on Nov. 3.

Spiros Kass can be reached at spikass@umich.edu.

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