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 October 22, 2018
We put a man on the moon; we can solve climate change

 Two weeks after world scientists issued their most dire warnings yet about the consequences of climate change and global warming, President Donald Trump is treating the report as nothing more than a summer storm advisory.

"Do you still think climate change is a hoax?" Leslie Stahl asked Trump during an interview on "60 Minutes" last Sunday (Oct. 14).

"I think something's happening," Trump said. "Something's changing and it'll change back again. I don't think it's a hoax, I think there's probably a difference. But I don't know that it's manmade.

"I will say this. I don't want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don't want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don't want to be put at a disadvantage."

Trump's response touches on three crucial points: Is climate change real? Is it manmade? What will it cost to reverse or stabilize it?

The president seems to accept that the planet is getting warmer but is skeptical about human involvement and hopes that maybe the warming trend will "change back again" on its own. But even if he did believe that the industrial age is to blame --- and this is the critical takeaway --- he wouldn't sacrifice the U.S. economy to try to fix it.

In the kindest reading, Trump is making a reckless gamble that the world's leading scientists are wrong and what looks like a cataclysmic peril will be resolved by the next Canadian cold front. The more horrifying interpretation is that the president, his administration and many of his Republican colleagues are willfully ignoring a credible threat simply to avoid asking Americans to make some tough choices and accept some burdens.

Compare this to another American president's initiative to rally a nation to what seemed an impossible challenge at the time.

"We choose to go to the Moon," John F. Kennedy told Congress in May 1961. "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too."

We have another challenge we must win now.

The United Nations' climate science body, a team of 91 scientists from 40 countries examining more than 6,000 scientific studies, has given the world 12 years to make dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or face severe heat waves, continued sea level rise, devastatingly more powerful storms and intense rainfall among other things.

That is two years longer than Kennedy gave NASA to put a man on the moon. And this is not just about a space race with the Soviet Union; it's about the kind of planet we will be leaving for our children and grandchildren.

And you will be hard-pressed to find another state more vulnerable to rising sea levels, powerful storms and intense rainfall than Louisiana. It is not going to do us much good to spend billions of dollars trying to restore our coasts if our leaders in Congress are not willing to step up and do something to reduce sea level rise and the threat of bigger and more ferocious tropical storms and hurricanes.

We already are paying for our reluctance to act. Hurricane Florence, for example, caused at least $22 billion in damages last month. Scientists said the storm dumped 50 percent more rain due to climate change and flooded 11,000 additional homes due to sea level rise. Hurricane Michael, which erupted suddenly in the Gulf of Mexico this month, is estimated to have caused $10 billion in destruction. We can buy into President Trump's belief that this is just a passing phase or we can listen to scientists who are finding not just correlation but causation.

Yes, there will be costs to the economy in reducing greenhouse gases, but it's not a zero-sum game. U.S. investments in that moonshot five decades ago have more than paid off in accelerating the development of all the technology we now take for granted. Republicans used to applaud market-driven innovations and embrace the chance to overcome obstacles.

Louisiana, in fact, could be at the forefront of developing the new climate change technology.

The United States put a man on the moon using slide rules and protractors. Call it American exceptionalism if you want, but we can solve climate change if we just get some leadership to take us there.

There is a world of difference between doing things "not because they are easy, but because they are hard" and "I don't want to be put at a disadvantage."