Rutherford H. Platt: What Trump’s State of the Union didn’t address

  • President Donald Trump arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. AP PHOTO/Carolyn Kaster

Published: 2/12/2019 9:34:57 AM

In his State of the Union address on Feb. 5, President Trump reprised his unfounded claim that a border wall would protect the country from a stream of rapists and drug dealers crossing our southern border with Mexico. By contrast, he utterly failed to mention the two greatest real threats confronting the United States and the planet: nuclear war and climate change.

Disregarding the threat of nuclear annihilation entirely, Trump perversely boasted of withdrawing the United States from two international agreements signed by his predecessors to reduce that very risk. First, he claimed that American withdrawal from the “Iran Nuclear Deal” was justified by the vacuous rationale that Iran “is a radical regime . . . that does bad, bad things.”

Similarly, he restated his intent that the United States will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. Under the INF, 2,692 short-to-intermediate-range land-based missiles were destroyed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union before 1991. Trump’s announcement quickly prompted Russia to also withdraw from the INF treaty. While both sides may have violated the treaty, the formal abandonment of this centerpiece of arms control with no replacement in sight is a ghastly regression to Cold-War “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) as the only remaining deterrent to nuclear holocaust.

As if that specter is not bad enough, the word “climate” never was uttered in the State of the Union address, not even to claim credit for pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. While more gradual than nuclear war, the impacts of global warming are already obvious, with much worse to come: drought, wildfires, more intense hurricanes, coastal and river flooding, extreme temperatures, and food shortages At the global scale, the last four years have been the hottest on record. One-fifth of all corals have died in the past three years. Sea level is rising due to accelerated melting of glaciers and land ice packs in the polar regions, and also due to expansion of warmer surface water in the world’s oceans. Carbon emissions rose 2.7 percent in 2018 despite efforts by many nations to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.

The existential threats of nuclear war and climate change in fact are interrelated. As Dr. Ira Helfand, the anti-nuclear war activist and local founder of “Back from the Brink,” has famously warned, the prospect of nuclear war is heightened by climate impacts on water supplies and agriculture, leading to mass migrations around the world. He views South Asia to be the region most imminently threatened by climate-related war between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. Once begun, those two countries have enough nuclear weapons to plunge the planet into nuclear winter and mass starvation.

Rutherford H. Platt

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