• author
    • Dave Van Manen

    • November 14, 2016 in Columnists

    Thoughts on Trump and climate change

    I’ve been reading about how we need to get behind president-elect Trump so he has a successful presidency. If a successful presidency would be defined as finding common ground to begin healing the divide that so defines our country right now, I’m all for it.  I suspect, though, that the president-elect and the team he is gathering to run the country would define a successful presidency primarily as the successful implementation of his campaign promises.  One of his defining promises has to do with energy and climate change, based on his belief that global warming is BS, or a hoax started by the Chinese.  I can emphatically say that I will never get behind the president-elect on this issue and will do all that I can so he is unsuccessful on this issue.

    Trump and his team can argue that human-caused climate change is not happening, is a lie, is a conspiracy, is bad science, or is a left-wing invention all they want. But science is not on their side. As a bumper sticker I saw once said, “Science doesn’t care what you believe.” According to nearly every climate scientist not in bed with the fossil-fuel industry, climate change is real, it is primarily caused by human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, and it is going to be catastrophic for the Earth that all of us, regardless of political affiliation, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and anything else, live our lives on.  Scientists also say that there is still time to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, but only if we act now!

    The president-elect and company are arguing with physics. You can’t argue with physics and win. Increase greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere and the planet’s climate will change. It’s the law.  It’s like arguing about the existence of gravity while holding a bowling ball over your foot. You can argue all you want, but if you let go, it’s going to hurt. A lot. Unfortunately, the impacts of denying gravity are so much more immediate than the somewhat slower manifestations of increased greenhouse gases.

    It is often argued that the current warming is nothing more than a natural cycle, as the planet has always had warming and cooling periods. No argument from science there — the Earth’s temperature has always changed as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other factors change. Currently, CO2 levels are at around 400ppm (parts per million). Using data gathered from tiny air bubbles in ice cores drilled into ancient Antarctica ice fields, CO2 levels have not been this high for at least 800,000 years. Analyses of shells in deep sea sediments take it back much further, to 10-15 million years. Yes, somewhere back there, way back there, way before any modern human species walked the planet, CO2 levels were 400ppm.  And the Earth showed it — sea levels 100 feet higher than they are today, little ice anywhere on the planet — it was a very different planet than the one we all live on.

    When our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, CO2 levels were about 275ppm. At the time of the Civil War, they were around 285ppm. In 1950, they were a bit above 300ppm. Three days after the recent election, they were 403ppm. Why the increase? The science is clear — human activity, mainly the burning of coal, oil and gas.

    All those numbers are not liberal think tank numbers, they are scientific facts. Have there been variations in the interpretation of them? Sure. That is what science is — looking at phenomena — developing a theory about this or that facet of the phenomena; subjecting the theory to vigorous testing,  observation and data gathering; analyzing the outcomes; making a conclusion as to the accuracy of the theory; making adjustments and re-testing; and, eventually, subjecting conclusions to  reviews, challenges and insights from other scientists.  As the past few decades have gone by since the theory of global warming first hit the mainstream, the theory of global warming has been questioned and scrutinized over and over and over.  Today, the science is more certain than ever — global warming is happening and we are causing it.

    Consider this: Say my young child comes down with some malady and I take her to 10 doctors and receive ten medical opinions. Nine doctors tell me she has a serious condition that needs to be acted on immediately and the tenth doc is pretty sure she has that same serious illness, but says there is a small chance it is not something serious and I shouldn’t worry about it. What would you think of me if I ignored the nine doctors plus the general counsel of the tenth doctor that it is serious and instead went with the small chance the last doctor mentioned, that it is nothing to worry about? Not very well, I suspect. Negligence would be an appropriate word. Child abuse, you might say. Well, that is exactly what the president-elect and all other climate-change-deniers are doing about the planet we all live on — ignoring the 97 percent of scientists who agree that the planet is in trouble.

    Fifteen years ago, the Bush administration cut funding of global warming research and systematically sought to suppress and distort the findings of climate scientists.  Today, the president-elect wants to do much the same, including eliminating, or significantly reducing, the Environmental Protection Agency. And it looks like he’s got Congress behind him on this.  These actions are equivalent to removing the mechanisms that monitors your car’s oil levels and engine temperature. Of course, none of us want to see the oil or temperature light come on when we are driving, but what’s the alternative? Not knowing something is wrong until your engine is ruined? At least you can buy another car — we can’t buy another planet. Such actions and policies are not science based and they are not people based, they are based on the corporate interests of the fossil fuel industry.

    Four hundred years ago, Galileo was persecuted for publishing his evidence that supported the Copernican theory that Earth revolves around the sun. At a time when the prevailing view was that that the Earth was the center of the Universe, strongly supported by the powerful Catholic Church, Galileo was tried, convicted and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. All for studying and concluding what we now know to be indisputably true — Earth revolves around the sun.

    Fast forward to our time.  Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, is a modern day Galileo. His research into global warming led to a massive misinformation campaign initiated by the powerful fossil fuel industry. In Mann’s own words, “I set myself up for a completely different life … I was vilified … I was called a fraud. I was being attacked by Congressmen. I had death threats, which were actionable enough that the FBI had to come to my office to look at an envelope that had white powder (in it). I’ve had threats made against my family. These folks know they don’t have to win a legitimate scientific debate. They just need to divide the public. All of that hatred and fear is organized and funded by just a few players. Fossil fuel interests … finance a very large echo chamber of climate change denialism. They find people with very impressive looking credentials who are willing to sell those credentials to fossil fuel interests. Front groups funded by corporate interests.”

    Sadly, this campaign, echoed by politicians, conservative talk show hosts and others, has been very effective. In spite of the solidity of climate science, a significant percentage of Americans still do not believe in global warming. And fossil fuels continue to be mined and piped and burned, and atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise.

    earthriseI have dedicated much of my life to providing opportunities for people, especially disadvantaged young people, to experience the wonders of Nature. I do this work because it is so good for children in so many ways to spend time in Nature (it is good for adults too). And I do it because these young people, if they have first hand experiences in Nature, are more likely to then grow up into adult citizens who advocate for the natural world. I love this planet, this amazing little blue ball floating in space. I want others to love it too. From all that I’ve heard said by the president-elect and the people he is surrounding himself with about their plans, it makes me feel like my work will soon be taking place in a small room on the Titanic. It’s a nice room, but what does it matter if the ship is going to sink? This is unacceptable to me.

    So, am I a whiner, a sore-loser, a doomsayer if I want to see the president-elect fail in implementing his policies that will so terribly impact the planet we all live on? If I am anything, I am simply a very concerned American citizen that wants to see my government implement environmental policies based on science — good, solid science.

    Because without a hospitable planet, no lives matter.


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