If President-elect Donald Trump actually believes all the warnings he issued during the election about the threats of immigration, he should be talking about ways to slow global warming as well.
Rising sea levels, caused by the melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps, will probably displace tens of millions of people in the decades ahead, and many may come to North America as refugees.
Climate change will cause a suite of other problems for future generations to tackle as well, and it's arguably the most pressing issue of our time. Last December, world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss strategies for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and scientists at every corner of the globe confirm that humans are facing a crisis. However, climate change is being all but ignored by American politicians and lawmakers. It was not discussed in depth at all during this past election cycle's televised presidential debates. When climate change does break the surface of public discussion, it polarizes Americans like almost no other political issue. Some conservatives, including Trump, still deny there's even a problem.
"We are in this bizarre political state in which most of the Republican Party still thinks it has to pretend that climate change is not real," says Jonathan F.P. Rose, a New York City developer and author of The Well-Tempered City, which explores how low-cost green development can mitigate the impacts of rising global temperatures.
Rose point out that progress cannot be made in drafting effective climate strategies until national leaders agree there's an issue.
"We have such strong scientific evidence," he says. "We can disagree on how we're going to solve the problems, but I would hope we could move toward an agreement on the basic facts."
That such a serious planet-wide crisis has become a divide across the American political battlefield is a "tragedy" to Peter Kalmus, an earth scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, who agreed to be interviewed for this story on his own behalf (not speaking for NASA, JPL, or Caltech).
Kalmus warns that climate change is happening whether politicians want to talk about it or not.
"CO2 molecules and infrared photons don't give a crap about politics, whether you're liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, or anything else," Kalmus says.
Slowing climate change will be essential, since adapting to all of its affects may be impossible. Governments must strive for greater resource efficiency, shift to renewable energy, and transition to more sustainable agricultural practices.
America's leaders must also implement a carbon pricing system, climate activists say, that places a financial burden on fossilfuel producers and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But there may be little to zero hope that such a system will be installed at the federal level. Trump, in fact, has threatened to reverse commitments the United States agreed to in Paris. Trump has even selected a well-known skeptic of climate change, Myron Ebell, to head his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team.
Steve Valk, communications director for the Citizens' Climate Lobby, says the results of the presidential election come as a discouraging setback in the campaign to slow emissions and global warming.
"There's no doubt that the steep hill we've been climbing just became a sheer cliff," he says. "But cliffs are scalable."
Valk says the American public must demand that Congress implement carbon pricing. He argues that the government is not likely to attack climate change unless voters force it to take action.
"The solution is going to have to come from the people," he says. "Our politicians have shown that they're just not ready to implement a solution on their own."