Rick Santorum has apparently emerged for the holidays, just in time to shame the greedy scientists he claims are making money on their estimated 97-percent agreement that climate change is not just real but an exponentially growing danger to the environment, our health and the long range prospects for our economy. The deposed former Pennsylvania senator is the latest B-lister seeking redemption by supporting Donald Trump’s factually wanting notion of climate change.

Evidently on the payroll at CNN as a commentator, Santorum earned his conservative spurs as a staunch homophobe, equating homosexuality with something he called “man on dog;” warning of the dangers to society posed by contraception; and suggesting Social Security is in trouble because one-third of the “young people in America today aren’t in America today because of abortion.” With such credibility at his disposal, it’s a wonder he’s not already in the president’s cabinet.

In bolstering Trump’s claim that scientists were essentially misrepresenting the facts about climate change in order to make money, Santorum joined the administration’s downplaying a blistering climate report compiled by more than 300 scientists from 13 federal agencies. Speculation had it that the report’s Black Friday release was a White House attempt to have it buried under other Thanksgiving weekend news.

But that didn’t happen, and once the findings were widely circulated, Trump went the ignoramus route. Responding to a report of below average temperatures in the northeast, the president asked, “Whatever happened to global warming?” Confusing climate with weather at this point is inexcusable if a rational debate is the objective. The president later said he’d seen the report and even “read parts of it” but came away with his own conclusion: “I don’t believe it,” suggesting “it’s cleaner than it’s ever been.” So cancel that rational debate.

Cold snap notwithstanding, according to the report, global warming is alive and well, and the longer it continues, the more likely it is that we will not be. Along with expected increases in global temperatures, the scientists clearly articulate the implications of unchecked warming, ranging from myriad respiratory ailments to stronger, more frequent storms and a year-round fire season. The report also discusses the catastrophic impact of climate change on the economy, rebuffing the argument that environmental regulations are too expensive, pointing out that doing nothing will cost far more in the long run.

Traveling in Southeast Asia this past month, we caught more than a glimpse of the precise future they’re predicting: withering heat and tremendous humidity, coupled with air so foul that after only a few minutes exposure, it was almost impossible to breathe without coughing. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, we assumed the toxic clouds surrounding us were caused mainly by the millions of vehicles clogging most major thoroughfares.

Although cars and motorcycles certainly contributed, the main culprit was coal, the planet’s cheapest, most widely used and deadliest source of electricity and unfortunately, Donald Trump’s favorite pet rock. And while coal use is slowly declining in the United States despite the president smoke and mirrors, giving way to cheaper alternatives, in developing countries it remains the ticket to modernity.

China right now has 1,200 coal-fueled power plants under construction. India’s power plants have provided consistent electricity to hundreds of millions for the first time, while in Vietnam, coal has become the fuel of choice, contributing to the highest premature death rate in Asia. The average Vietnamese child is reported to have between six and eight respiratory infections per year, but the government remains focused on the country’s future in the tech industry and coal-fired power plants — right now anyway — are the means to that end.

The United States could and should be taking a leadership role in addressing global climate change and its dire consequences, but the impetus for such a radical policy shift will have to come from somewhere outside the Oval Office. The president is sitting this one out, which probably is good, since the only thing he brings to the table is mind-boggling, ego-driven ignorance. On some level, he believes what he says is true, no matter its absurdity — on Thanksgiving he was grateful for … himself, and the great job he’s done. God help us.

It’s particularly grating to hear the likes of Trump, Santorum and a host of other conservative numbskulls deciding to toss four years’ work by hundreds of climate scientists into the trash because it doesn’t comply with their reverence for the fossil-fuel industry and their campaign contributions. Simplistically saying “I don’t believe it” is the response of a dangerous clown — completely unacceptable.

The president should not be let off the hook on this one. If he doesn’t believe the science, he needs to provide other, peer-reviewed science to back up his claim. He needs to finally be held accountable — perhaps for the first time in his life — for the things he says. The theoretical leader of the free world should not be peddling the kind of junk science that wouldn’t meet the standards we set for a seventh-grade research paper.

Walt Amses lives in North Calais.

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