Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Trump's Runaway Effect: Tracing the Science of Climate Change and Trump's Denials

by Nomad

President Trump's ignorance of the long history of the science of Climate Change has fueled his irrational denials and conspiracy theories. That, and the prodding and solicitation of special interests. 

First Glimpse of the Ultimate Horror

In the summer of 1982, businessman Donald Trump was celebrating the opening of the 58-story skyscraper, Trump Tower, in downtown Manhattan.
Trump was well on his way to building his own formidable business empire. In that year, Trump reported a personal net worth of $321 million. True, his wealth was built largely on his father’s connections, as well as loans and guarantees for bank credit, it was nevertheless an impressive figure for a man of 36.

Nobody asked but it's doubtful whether or not he took any particular interest in the climate. It is safe to assume he wouldn't have cared whether it was changing or not. Why should he have cared? The topic offered him no path to greater fame nor greater wealth. 

However, only a few months earlier, the February 1982 issue of Popular Science published an article entitled "The Carbon Dioxide Dilemma." Here's a passage:
Over the past few decades, scientists have become aware that we have to be concerned about the huge amounts of carbon dioxide that mankind is putting into the atmosphere as we burn more and more fossil fuels. Most experts think this is the first activity that change climate globally with unpredictable consequences.
Forty-five years ago, scientists were just beginning to understand the effects of carbon pollution on climate. The debate wasn't whether man-made activity was changing the climate. The question was how much of an impact there would be.
But if you go to the other end of the spectrum of climate change, you can get some real horror stories. Take the ultimate (and quite unlikely) horror, the "runaway greenhouse."
The article lays out the greenhouse effect in remarkably accurate detail, exactly as 99% of climatologists explain it today. 
Sunlight that hits the Earth is radiated back into space in the form of infrared energy. Carbon dioxide causes what is called the greenhouse effect because it blocks the infrared. Increase the amount of carbon dioxide and you increase the amount of heat retained by the Earth.
Not too difficult to comprehend.
This flooding the atmosphere with gases, the article explains, creates a loop with higher temperatures releasing more carbon dioxide from the soil make the atmosphere retain more infrared, creating more heat.

The oceans could, in theory, provide a "carbon dump" but for how long and to what degree that would offset the rising temperatures no scientist could say. (It later would be learned that the oceans would eventually warm too which would present a whole new set of problems. In addition, while absorbing carbon, the oceans were gradually becoming more acidic.) 
Eventually, the Earth becomes as unlivable as our sister planet Venus where the atmosphere is almost pure carbon dioxide and the temperatures are hot enough to melt lead.
There's only one difference between this article and any climate change article written today: the level of certainty. Forty-five years ago, scientists did not have the advanced global computer models, no opportunity for detailed measurements. no network of weather satellites, no international organizations, and agencies, and no forums for scientists to compare notes.   

Even so, it was not considered alarmist to be concerned. Only a fool would have labeled the greenhouse effect a hoax. 

More Dire Warnings

In 1989, Donald Trump was on top of his game. In fact, his career became a model for the board game, Trump: The Game. ("where you deal for whatever you've ever wanted to own").
Most people dismissed the project as just another one of Trump's gimmicks, another attempt to put his stamp on something. In this case, it was a Monopoly rip-off but on a corporate level.
Like so many of his get-rich ventures, the game was a bust.

In August of that same year, Popular Science was still issuing warnings about climate change and how time was running out. In a three-part article by Arthur Fisher was entitled "Playing Dice with Earth's Climate."  

The tone of this article was different than the one from seven years earlier. Meaning, much more serious and authoritative.

Citing the testimony of director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Science James E. Hansen before a Senate Committee in 1988, Fisher  points out that there had already been 15 years of urgent warnings from climatologists who cautioned that "mankind is altering Earth's heat balance by loading the atmosphere with increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases." 
Hansen provided Congress with the graphs and the measurements of hundreds of experts around the world.  
Altogether the evidence that the Earth is warming by an amount too large to be a change fluctuation and the similarity of the warming to that expected from the greenhouse effect represented a very strong case. In my opinion, that the greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now.
In the Popular Science article, John Firor, executive director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), observed:
"Studies of past climate changes can tell us about what to expect as things heat up. We learn that even a slow change in the climate can have dramatic effects if it continues long enough."
However, what scientists had detected was not a slow change.
Earth's atmosphere is being changed at an unprecedented rate, the changes that most climate modelers anticipate will occur at a pace far exceeding anything the planet experienced in the past, as far as we can tell.
It was obvious that the time to act to prevent catastrophe was sooner not later. Hansen said:
It is time to stop waffling so much and say that evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.
That was almost 40 years ago

Trump's Denial Tweets

Beginning around 2011, property developer Donald J. Trump felt he was qualified to weigh in the subject. In a series of tweets, Trump declared that climate change was nothing less than left- wing nonsense.
By trying to address the problem,(after decades of warnings) President Obama, Trump said, was simply throwing money away.
Trump was relentless in his attacks on the very idea that climate change was real. Scientists, he suggested, were conspiring against US and trying to keep this nation from becoming great again.
If it wasn't a full-blown conspiracy, then the science that supported climate change was, Trump alleged, "faulty."
Non-scientist Trump alone knew the truth about climate change. It didn't exist. It was a hoax, a con game, a means to weaken the US. In his distorted analysis, every winter storm was an example that global warming was nonsense.
That was in 2012.
Few took much notice of Trump's tweets. Who was Trump anyway? His critics- and he had a lot- considered him nothing less than a cartoonish crass billionaire with an obsession for publicity.

In his own mind, he might fancy himself an opinion maker in the world but he was not a scientist and if he wanted to spout the latest press releases for Big Oil, or repeat the denials by a shrinking number of skeptics, then what harm could it do? America is a land where crackpots, especially uber-rich ones, are allowed to spout off whenever they like about whatever they like. 

Going to Hell

That brings us to this month, June 2017.
In the White House Rose Garden, President Donald J. Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords. That was an international agreement aimed at dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. It was supposed to be a global response to a global crisis. 

Trump would have nothing to do international planet saving. In one fell swoop, Trump trashed the decades-long work of dedicated and concerned scientists.   

His decision to pull out of the non-binding agreement was, he claimed, “a reassertion of America’s sovereignty.”  From now on, under this president, America, as the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon, will be thinking of itself first, and the rest of the world and the future generations can literally go to hell.
                                *     *    *     *
In actuality, the roadblock to tackling climate change isn't merely the Trump administration.
It goes deeper than one man. 

Only eight years, things were very different. As the New York Times reminds us, the Republican Party in 2008 nominated John McCain as its presidential candidate and some claimed that McCain's climate change credentials were better than or on par with Obama's.
McCain's campaign ads featured rapid-fire images of belching smokestacks and melting ice sheets and proclaimed that McCain was the man who would “sounded the alarm on global warming.”

Two Democratic terms later and there's been a well-financed 180-degree turn of the party's position on this topic. Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist, explains:
“In some ways, it’s become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.”
According to the NYT article, it was not an ideological shift so much as a form of political prostitution. The Republican party auctioned off its soul to the highest bidder.
Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.
Now, the Koch brothers are reported to be willing to dish out something around $400 million heading into the 2018 midterm elections. And the Republican party has demonstrated that it is willing to reverse any stand in the name of cold hard cash.

From the Year of the Titanic

And finally, there's this meek snippet- little more than a curious and far-fetched idea- found in an Australia newspaper.
The date: August 14, 1912.
That was the year the Titanic sank and the year Woodrow Wilson became president.

After 105 years, the concept of climate change created by human activity is still being questioned. We have a president who dismisses decades of science as if it never existed.
That shouldn't surprise us. After all, in some quarters, evolution is viewed as spurious and an affront to religious beliefs.

Progress on this vitally important issue has effectively been thwarted by selfishness, greed, and stupidity. Whether Trump, as a living obstacle, can be overcome is, pun intended, very much up in the air.

American engineer, inventor, and science administrator, Vannevar Bush said
"Science can give mankind a better standard of living, better health, and a better mental life, if mankind, in turn. gives science the sympathy and support so essential to its progress."
Without support for science, without listening to the warnings of the climate change experts (who've dedicated their lives to learning more) mankind will very likely make render all life on Earth unsustainable.

So much of that sympathy and support depends on the kind of leaders we choose to represent our interests and the interests of our children's children.