But what of those ordinary folks who say they’ve been newly sensitized to the dangers of global warming? The truth is that many of them are a bit like Mr. Newsom, unwilling to accept boundaries when their own desires are at stake. New rules and new fire codes are OK, even a ban in some places. Just don’t ban us!
In the West, for instance, one study found that from 1990 to 2015, 32 million homes were built in fire-prone areas near forests, powerful evidence that for many people the lure of living near the wild is greater than their best instincts about the risks of living in increasingly dry and fire-prone areas.
So, too, is the eternal lure of the seashore. A 2019 study undertaken by Climate Central, a New Jersey environmental science group, showed that even after Hurricane Sandy, home construction in flood-prone areas in many coastal states continued at a brisk pace. This could change: The present confluence of fires and floods is truly scary. But so far there is not much evidence that the growing evidence of trouble now and trouble ahead is actually changing behavior.
Where was the president as the West burned and the Gulf Coast drowned? As usual, in his own special cocoon of denial surrounded by “alternative facts.” In one of the more risible moments of his presidency, Donald Trump went to Florida earlier this month and, with an eye to the state’s electoral votes, declared his support for two worthy causes — Everglades restoration and a ban on oil drilling off Florida’s coasts. Whereupon he also anointed himself “the No. 1 environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt” — an appraisal that would come as a huge surprise to, among others, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whose various environmental legacies, in particular Mr. Obama’s, Mr. Trump has spent the better part of four years trying to subvert.
His true colors resurfaced when, a few days later, after weeks of silence on California’s agony, Mr. Trump added a side trip to Sacramento for a briefing on the fires. He showed almost no empathy for ordinary Californians and insisted, as he had before, that the crisis arose largely from the state’s mismanagement of its forests, the majority of which are in fact a federal responsibility. As for the long-accepted view that global warming is turbocharging floods and fires, he said the science of climate change was suspect and the scientists were confused.