President-elect Trump – it makes WC a little nauseous to say that, but it’s the reality – has repeatedly said climate change is a Chinese hoax. He has promised to reverse President Obama’s climate initiatives, and to take the U.S. out of all climate change treaties. The president-elect has chosen a climate change denier and Competitive Enterprise Institute huckster, Myron Ebell, to lead the effort to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.
But here’s the thing: the President and Congress can change the laws and policies of the United States aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But they can’t change the laws of physics. They can’t change inescapable reality of man-caused climate change and ocean acidification.
Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Science has measured it. in 2016, atmospheric CO2 passed the 400 ppm threshold. Our fossil fuel addiction has caused CO2 in the atmosphere to increase 42 percent compared to pre-industrial levels.
As any high school physics student can demonstrate, CO2 is a greenhouse gas; small increases in the concentration of the gas increase the rate of warming of the air. Again, it’s the laws of physics. The atmosphere is warming.
So it’s not a surprise that 2016 is certain to be the warmest year on record. It broke the record set in 2015. And that 2015 record broke the record set in 2014. Three consecutive years of new record high global temperatures. The Earth’s atmosphere has warmed about 1° F since pre-industrial times, and the rate of warming is increasing. Repealing the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions isn’t going to change that, except to possibly make it worse. In a sane world, in a world where science and facts matter, three record warm years in a row might suggest it’s not a Chinese conspiracy.
A warmer atmosphere holds more water, fueling heavy downpours. Climate Central’s weather attribution looked at two notable extreme rainfall events this year—Louisiana’s epic rains in August and France’s deluge in May—and found climate change made them more likely. You can expect heavy downpours to only become more common and more severe as CO2 emissions warm the world. Climate science makes predictions; we see them happening.
Climate science predicts that the oceans will rise. In fact, the world’s oceans have risen about a foot over the past century. Partly its from the oceans warming; warmer water expands. Partly it’s from land-bound ice in Greenland and Antarctica melting. The rise in ocean levels has made coastal flooding far more common in the U.S. According to a Climate Central report last month, 76 percent of coastal flood days over the past 10 years can be tied to climate change-fueled sea level rise.
Ice at both poles is melting at faster and faster rates. This year we had the second-lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record. The Northwest Passage opened up agin this summer. As of October, regrowth or Arctic sea ice was so slow that the Arctic was still missing a chunk of ice the size of the entire eastern half of the U.S. Even the Antarctic ice sheets are starting to melt. A crack has formed across a massive ice shelf. Scientists have discovered massive melt rates at some glaciers in West Antarctica as warm waters eat them from the bottom up.
CO2 dissolves in water, making it more acidic. More CO2 in the atmosphere means a more acidic ocean. Again, basic physics. The base of the oceanic food chain is plankton, and many kinds of plankton can survive only in a narrow range; too acidic and they can’t make their calcium shells. Coral can’t survive, so coral reefs die and dissolve. Oceans are the largest single source of protein to fed humankind, and we are killing the base of that food chain.
And here’s the other thing: the laws of physics also tell us that there’s no way to get the genie back in the bottle. There’s no way to get the CO2 out of the atmosphere as quickly as we have taken and continue to take it out. It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
As President-elect Trump reverses the efforts to limit an existential threat to humankind and doubles down on fossil fuel consumption, the laws of physics are going to continue to operate. Denying those law, denying those facts, is a form of slow suicide for us and our planet.