The Trump administration's recent move to permit oil and gas drilling in 90 percent of the federal government's offshore land presents an opportunity. With vast protected areas of the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic under threat, now is a good time to challenge some of the myths working against Americans' willingness and ability to stem the ruinous warming of the planet that is resulting from humanity's excessive burning of fossil fuels.
Let's start with the wild winter weather that has struck the eastern U.S. Led by Trump, climate-change deniers clucked as a hurricane-strength blizzard pulverized the Northeast, followed by subzero wind chills. This came after the great winter "bomb cyclone" hit the Southeast, bringing coastal Georgia its first "mix of snow and palm trees" since the late 1980s.
"Wow," the Republican Fox News and talk radio crowd wisecracked. "Seems like global cooling is the real problem." Trump weighed in on the matter on Twitter near the end of the year: "In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year's Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming...Bundle up!"
Trump and the rest of the climate-denial club betrayed their status as earth science know-nothings with such flippant comments. The long-term warming trend remains intact. As the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) reported in August, every single year since 1977 has been warmer than the 20th century average. Sixteen of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred in the present century.
"While we have seen some all-time daily lows for a smattering of locations in the U.S.," the Climate Reality Project (CRP) noted last week, "these pale in comparison with the number of all-time highs we've seen over the past year. In fact, the record highs have outpaced the record lows 61 to seven, i.e., nine times more often."
All that is hardly cancelled out by some severe cold in the eastern U.S. this winter. We can be sure that the Pentagon is not dropping its determination that climate change is both real and significant because of some bitter chilliness in New England.
And "while we're seeing some cold weather in the eastern half of the North America," the CRP adds, "the western half of North America has been unusually warm. Indeed, most of the Northern Hemisphere, and the globe overall, have been unusually warm."
At the same time, the "dipolar" pattern of winter warmth in the West and cold in the East (evident across recent North American winters) reflects "meandering" northern jet-stream patterns resulting from the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice. The massive nor'easter storms we have seen in this and recent winters derive their energy from rising contrasts in temperature and the evaporation of water atop warming ocean surfaces.
These are reflections of, not anomalies for, global warming. This is the sort of weather one should expect because of climate change.
"OK," some in the Fox News camp say, "maybe the planet is warming, but there's no proof that this is caused by fossil fuels."
This, too, is false. There's nothing mysterious about the warming greenhouse effect that results from the rising concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. It is uncontroversial among scientists that atmospheric CO2 concentration has risen steadily in the industrial era, from 280 parts per million (ppm) in 1780 to 400 ppm today (thanks to remarkably rapid increases in the current century). And because "atmospheric carbon contains information about its source," the UCS notes, scientists have been able to determine that human-generated fossil fuel emissions are "the largest contributor to CO2 concentration since the pre-industrial era."
The latest research indicates that nearly two-thirds of global warming can be "confidently attributed to anthropogenic forcing" led by "heat-trapping emissions from burning coal, gas, and oil, cutting down and burning forests, tiny pollution particles (aerosols) and soot; and changes in land use that effect Earth's albedo" (albedo refers to the earth's ability to reflect solar radiation).
"OK," comes another objection to anti-warming climate action, "let's say all this big fancy science you environmentalists cite is accurate. Still, let's quit being frightened little scaredy-cats about climate change. We are a hardy species. We will survive bad weather, rising sea levels and forest fires. We'll buck up and get through this."
No, we won't get through the greenhouse gassing of the planet moving at its current pace toward 500 CO 2ppm by 2050, if not sooner. That level of carbon saturation translates to a 7-degree increase in global temperature. And that spells doom for the Antarctic, a critical life support for the planet.