Billionaire founder of Virgin Group Richard Branson stands in front of destruction on Necker Island caused by Hurricane Irma. Photo: Richard Branson / Instagram

By Naomi Klein
11 September 2017

(The Intercept) – As one of the most powerful storms ever recorded bore down on the continental United States, with much of Florida under evacuation order, President Donald Trump was focused on a matter of grave urgency.

He gathered his cabinet at Camp David and said there was no time to waste. With Hurricane Irma set to potentially devastate huge swaths of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, now was the time, he said, to rush through massive … tax cuts.

Yes, that’s right. He wasn’t focused on getting massive aid to those most affected. He wasn’t focused on massive change to our energy and transit systems to lower greenhouse gas emissions so that Irma-like storms do not become a thrice-annual occurrence. His mind was on massive changes to the tax code — which, despite Trump’s claims that he is driven by a desire to give the middle class relief, would in fact hand corporations the biggest tax cut in decades and the very wealthy a sizable break as well.

Some have speculated that seeing the reality of climate change hit so close to home this summer — Houston underwater, Los Angeles licked by flames, and now southern states getting battered by Irma — might be some kind of wake-up call for climate change-denying Republicans.

As Trump’s address to his cabinet makes clear, however, Irma only makes him want to double down on his reckless economic agenda. Flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, he explained that they were going to discuss “dramatic tax cuts and tax reform. And I think now with what’s happened with the hurricane, I’m gonna ask for a speed up.”

Some have pointed out that this is a classic example of what I have called the “shock doctrine” — using disasters as cover to push through radical, pro-corporate policies. And it is a textbook case to be sure, especially because when Trump made his remarks, Irma was at the very height of its potential threat.

But Trump’s timing is even more revealing for what it shows about what’s really driving climate change denial on the right. It’s not a rejection of the science, but a rejection of the consequences of the science. Put simply, if the science is true, then the whole economic project that has dominated American power structures since Ronald Reagan was president is out the window, and the deniers know it.

Because if climate change is driving the kinds of catastrophes we are seeing right now — and it is — then it doesn’t just mean Trump has to apologize and admit he was wrong when he called it a Chinese hoax. It means that he also needs to junk his whole tax plan, because we’re going to need that tax money (and more) to pay for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. And it also means he’s going to have to junk his deregulatory plan, because if we are going to change how we power our lives, we’re going to need all kinds of regulations to manage and enforce it. And, of course, this is not just about Trump — it’s about all the climate-denying Republican governors whose states are currently being pounded. All of them would have to junk an entire twisted worldview holding that the market is always right, regulation is always wrong, private is good and public is bad, and taxes that support public services are the worst of all.

Here is what we need to understand in a hurry: Climate change, especially at this late date, can only be dealt with through collective action that sharply curtails the behavior of corporations, such as Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs (both so lavishly represented at Trump’s cabinet meeting). Climate action demands investments in the public sphere — in new energy grids, public transit and light rail, and energy efficiency — on a scale not seen since World War II. And that can only happen by raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations, the very people Trump is determined to shower with the most generous tax cuts, loopholes, and regulatory breaks.

In short, climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. [more]

Irma won’t “wake up” climate change-denying republicans. Their whole ideology is on the line.

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