WASHINGTON — Climate change, an issue that has taken a back seat to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis in the United States, is roaring back to the forefront just as Donald Trump's Republicans begin their sprint to the November presidential election.
Wildfires are ravaging California and twin storms threatened the U.S. Gulf Coast on the very day the week-long Republican National Convention got underway Monday. But neither got any attention from Trump himself, who showed up in person at the party's roll-call event in Charlotte, N.C., after delegates from across the country confirmed him as the GOP nominee.
"We have to win — this is the most important election in the history of our country," Trump said during a rambling, off-the-cuff speech loaded with the usual attacks on Joe Biden and the Democrats, whom he accused of manufacturing a controversy over the U.S. Postal Service and mail-in voting.
"This is it: our country can go in a horrible, horrible direction, or in an even greater direction."
The next several days, in which the spotlight-seeking Trump is expected to factor prominently, likely won't make much mention of climate change. But when the subject does come up, take it with a grain of salt, warned Elizabeth Gore, the senior vice-president of political affairs for Washington-based EDF Action, the advocacy wing of the Environmental Defense Fund.
"It will be interesting to see if this administration tries to take any credit for anything on the environmental agenda at a time when it is working so hard against efforts to have cleaner air and cleaner water and a livable planet," Gore said in an interview.
"That's going to be a false narrative that a group like EDF Action is going to be pushing hard against, because this administration has been nothing but harmful to the regulatory underpinnings for environmental protection, and has been nothing but counterproductive to interests across the country in addressing our climate change crisis."
The issue was front and centre during last week's largely online Democratic convention, which featured a brief but powerful video segment from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, recorded not far from one of the hundreds of wildfires burning out of control throughout the state.
"If you are in denial about climate change, come to California," said Newsom, noting the 54 C temperatures recorded in Death Valley — believed to be a global record.
In his closing speech, Biden promised that if elected, his administration would make the most of what he called "not only a crisis," but "an enormous opportunity" to be a world leader in clean energy, with millions of new jobs.
"And we can pay for these investments by ending loopholes and the president's $1.3-trillion tax giveaway to the wealthiest one per cent and the biggest, most profitable corporations, some of which pay no tax at all."
Newsom has already appealed directly to Canada and Australia for help in battling the wildfires, which have killed seven people, consumed more than half a million hectares and forced more than 100,000 residents from their homes. The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, which handles international resource requests, is canvassing member agencies for available resources, said spokesman Marc Mousseau.
On the other side of the country, meanwhile, two tropical storms are poised to drench U.S. states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — with one of them expected to reach hurricane strength by the time it makes landfall later this week.
Tropical storm Marco, which weakened overnight Sunday, is expected to travel west as it skirts the edge of the Gulf Coast, while the storm known as Laura could be a category-2 hurricane by the time it reaches the U.S. That is expected Wednesday, the day before Trump takes the stage on the south lawn of the White House for the convention's big finale.
It likely won't matter whether Republicans want to talk about the impact of carbon emissions on the environment, said Gore, because the polls she's seen would suggest Americans — Democrat and Republican alike — do.
"Just looking at what voters say, and what's happening on Capitol Hill, the Republican message at the convention about climate — which sounds as though it's going to be firmly in the camp of denial or calling climate action 'extremism' — that is really out of step with most Americans, and even with most Republicans," she said.
"The juxtaposition between this position that the Republican party is taking, particularly in the face of the two hurricanes and the wildfires in the West, is particularly striking, and emphasizes how out of step they are with what people across the political spectrum are really demanding from the government."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2020.
— With files from Jim Bronskill in Ottawa; follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle
James McCarten, The Canadian Press