Fire ravages Maui. Over 100 lives were lost. And as the smoke still lingers, President Joe Biden announced his plans to visit Lahaina, Hawaii, with First Lady Jill Biden on August 21. But here’s the thing: While the dust settles on yet another natural disaster intensified by our climate crisis, the political arena is heating up with accusations.
Let’s rewind. Presidents visiting disaster sites isn’t groundbreaking. It’s kind of part of the job. But timing? It’s everything. Jump in too early and you’re seen as impeding relief efforts with all the security baggage a presidential visit entails. Wait too long, and critics question your commitment.
Speaking in Milwaukee about the economy, Biden mentioned, “My wife, Jill, and I are going to travel to Hawaii as soon as we can… I don’t want to get in the way.” But the way the GOP frames it, Biden’s actual inaction is not about stepping onto Maui soil too soon, but his perceived silence on the severity of the wildfires and the devastation they’ve caused.
Sure, the White House counters that narrative. They highlight federal agencies providing crucial immediate relief: meals, water, and cots. Still, the political finger-pointing rages on. Former President Donald Trump, never one to sit out a media moment, lambasted Biden for an apparent “no comment” on the wildfires. And while we could dismiss it as political maneuvering for the 2024 elections, Trump’s voice still holds weight.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates clapped back, stressing actions over words, and pointing to the GOP’s dismissal of the climate crisis. Bates emphasized, “We won’t be lectured by Republican officials…who attempted to slash the wildfire response budget.”
But the pressure on Biden isn’t just from the right. Climate activists argue Biden’s acknowledgment of the wildfires doesn’t go deep enough. They want him to connect the dots. The blazing dots that link intensifying natural disasters with our escalating climate crisis.
While Biden’s team suggests he’s unofficially declared a climate emergency, activists counter: Where’s the official declaration? Such a step could unlock funds and catalyze executive actions targeting climate change. Biden’s recent Inflation Reduction Act, brimming with clean energy funds, is a start. Yet, with continued green lights for fossil fuel projects, the administration seems to be sending mixed signals.
NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus didn’t mince words: “I beg you — I literally beg you — to formally declare a climate emergency.” He’s not alone in his plea. Experts like Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University, connect the dots between worsening droughts, extreme heat, and tragedies like the Maui fires.
So, as Biden plans his Hawaiian visit, the real question remains: Will he address not just the flames Maui has seen, but also the underlying heat that’s fanning fires globally?