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Climate change isn't 50 or 75 years away

A man stands in floodwaters following cyclone-force winds

A man stands in floodwaters following cyclone-force winds and heavy rain near the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique, on Wednesday. Credit: AP / Josh Estey

A U.S. District Court judge delivered a strong and pointed message this week when he invalidated federal leases for oil and gas drilling granted for some 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming:

Climate change must be considered before the government takes any action that might make its effects worse.

The Interior Department failed to follow that legal requirement, the judge ruled, by not providing documentation for its claim that the drilling would not affect greenhouse-gas emissions. The leases were granted toward the end of the Obama administration, but the ruling looms as a huge obstacle to plans by the Trump administration, on record as quite skeptical of climate change, to greatly expand oil and gas drilling and coal mining on public lands and in public water.

The importance of the ruling was underscored by events on the other side of the world, and in our own backyard.

Mozambique is reeling from climate change-fueled devastation caused by a monster cyclone — higher rainfall from warmer air, more extensive flooding from rising seas, greater runoff over land baked hard by drought. At home, in low-lying Island Park, battered six years ago by superstorm Sandy, residents struggle with street flooding exacerbated by sea-level rise during high tides, full moons and heavy rains — while officials prepare to overhaul storm drainage infrastructure. Still fresh in our memories are the calamities made worse by climate change, like hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the wildfires in California.

And yet, federal Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler argued this week against swift action on climate change, saying most of its threats are 50 to 75 years away.

The evidence is clear. He’s wrong, the effects are already here. We must deal with climate change now. — The editorial board