Trump’s Climate-change Denial Makes a Miserable Future More Likely

By Bruce E. Johansen, Frederick W. Kayser Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the author of the forthcoming Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science, Society, and Solutions.

If carbon dioxide had a sense of humor, it would get a monstrous laugh out of Donald Trump’s two-word dismissal of it: “Chinese hoax.” Now that our incoming president, as well as the majority of the House and Senate, are in full-blown denial of climate change, its main causal agent would be rolling in the aisles. Trump even wants to withdraw from the Paris accords on climate change as the rest of the world’s 190 nations seek solutions to this existential threat that, over time, will imperil more people, plants, and animals than any other on Earth. Already, the last three years have set succeeding higher temperature records world-wide by large margins.

Carbon dioxide takes no time-outs. Its proportion in the atmosphere continues to rise no matter what politicians say. Over time, that means warmer temperatures, eroding ice, rising seas, and more severe storms. These are the geophysical facts. They do not cease to be true if people with political power do not understand them.

There exists a massive disconnect on the subject of climate change between what most scientists know and the public conversation. Public education on the issue is all the more important at a time when the executive and legislative branches of the United States government are dominated by people who are massively ignorant of the geophysical facts.

Nowhere is this gap broader than with regard to “thermal inertia,” the geophysics that describes how quickly greenhouse-gas emissions influence climate. While this may sound esoteric, it is vitally important to our future. Because of the geophysical facts, the situation is much more urgent than most people believe.

Global warming is a deceptively backhanded crisis in which thermal inertia delivers results a half-century or more after our burning of fossil fuels provokes them. Our political and diplomatic debates react after we see results.

Political inertia plus thermal inertia thus presents the human race and the planet we superintend with a challenge to fashion a new energy future before raw necessity – the hot wind in our faces – compels action. The geophysical system thus requires that our industrial and diplomatic systems respond according to the needs of the seventh generation, in accordance with Native traditional ecological ethos.

Ken Caldeira, a researcher at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institute of Science, told Chelsea Harvey of The Washington Post: “The legacy of what we’re doing over the next decades and the next centuries is really going to have a dramatic influence on this planet for many tens of thousands of years.”

The proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to rise worldwide, a trend that has not changed since the beginning of the industrial revolution. That level reached 400 parts per million in 2015, as high as it was in the Pliocene, 2 to 4 million years ago, when sea levels were 100 feet higher and temperatures 4 to 6 degrees F. warmer. This is a key figure, and one that indicates how much change has yet to be experienced because of thermal inertia, within the next few centuries.

This cake is already being baked. In terms of geologic time, the change is coming about remarkably quickly. Carbon dioxide is a trace gas, a tiny proportion of the atmosphere; at 400 p.p.m., it comprises only one-tenth of one third of one per cent of the atmosphere. It is, however, a remarkably efficient retainer of heat, and it is now increasing at a rate more quickly than at any time in the geophysical record, hundreds of millions of years.

Greenhouse gases have no morals, loyalty, nor party affiliation. Carbon dioxide is not having a debate with us. It merely retains heat.

Thus, in 50 years, when our children are grandparents, the planetary emergency of which we are now tasting the first course will be a dominant theme in everyone’s life, unless we act now. Within a decade or two, thermal inertia will take off on its own, portending a hot, miserable future for coming generations. This reality is becoming more certain with the swearing-in of our climate-change denier in chief.

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