The Head-in-the-Sand President

What President Trump doesn’t know can and WILL hurt you.

Posted Mar 29, 2017

Distress is rising among people with a firm grip on reality. And for good reason.

In the name of “jobs” for coal miners, and with a backdrop of actual coal miners, President Trump has begun the process of undoing the long years of hard work by President Obama and his administration to reduce and protect against catastrophic global climate change. Shockingly, standing beside him was his Environmental Protection Agency administrator (of all people!), Scott Pruitt.

The two are cementing their place in the dark recesses of history, among the ignoramuses, fools, and zealots who took others down the wrong path with them, who led the way to ruin. In 2017 serious people no longer behave as if global climate change is not happening or is not driven mainly by human activity.

Trump is directing the E.P.A. to begin the long legal process of withdrawing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan is the keystone in America’s 2015 Paris Agreement Pledge to lower emissions at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The Pledge was a major step forward in the fight against global climate change, which, as I’ve written elsewhere, is already killing as many as half a million people a year and wreaking all sorts of havoc in the global economy and nature. The New York Times has an excellent series of charts of how the various actions set into motion by President Obama put us on the path to reducing climate change to manageable levels in the future.

But even with the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. was going to fall short of its Pledge. Trump’s actions make us fall much farther behind in the race to avoid the worst outcomes of global climate change (the longer we wait to respond, the most drastic and severe those responses must be to achieve the same outcomes). The move may also convince other nations to dishonor their pledges. America is, in effect, giving up its leadership in the global campaign against climate change.

Now, Trump wants to bring fossil fuels to the fore by lifting a ban on coal leases and discarding expert opinion on the full costs of carbon emissions. Coal is the fuel that creates the most global climate change, produces the greatest amount of carbon dioxide for the energy you get out of it. Meanwhile, few people believe that the coal jobs are coming back. Coal is “past its prime,” admits one of the largest coal producers in the country, American Electric Power Inc. Natural gas is beating coal in open markets, so the coal jobs are likely gone for good. Trump can’t be sincere with the hope he’s peddling to out-of-work coal miners.

How much damage can denial do?

A lot. It can kill us.

The survival of modern society depends on a complex system of institutions that observe, analyze, and respond to the myriad and dispersed conditions of the world. Modern society is like a giant organism, taking in raw materials and putting out waste, all operating within the context of myriad intricate, delicate ecosystems. Science, educational systems, and government agencies work hard to figure out what’s going on in the world, and how nature is responding to our impacts on it. Thousands of climate scientists worldwide have worked independently and cooperatively to try to establish what’s happening with the atmosphere. Over and over, through decades of hard labor, experimentation, and crunching vast amounts of data from global sensors on Earth’s surface and from satellites, through stringent peer review processes, and by looking at the effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, scientists have come to the conclusion that the atmosphere and surface of the planet are rapidly warming, and the warming is primarily caused by human activity—mainly burning greenhouse gases.

It’s good to be a skeptic, but it’s also good to be a realist. If you don’t buy these conclusions, check the data for yourself. Here are a couple of great places to start:

Ecologists are working hard to understand how these changing temperatures are affecting ecosystems and organisms. Economists have studied how these changes in ecosystems, particularly agricultural systems, are affecting economic output. Policy analysts, engineers, and others are working on solutions including new directions in energy production and potential new policies that can steer the economy away from fossil fuels.

The upshot of this decades-long struggle to understand the outcomes of pumping tailpipe and coal-fired power-plant pollution into the atmosphere continuously is that we know increasingly clearly every year that we’re disrupting Earth’s climates and that this is in turn disrupting economies and diminishing nature. Droughts, floods, famines, species extinctions, and ecosystem degradation have ensued, and much worse is likely to come, particularly if we don’t act now.

Ignorance is Easy, Knowledge is Hard

The problem with the modern world is that Trump cannot just look out his limousine window to see whether climate change is happening. Weather (what’s happening right now) is not climate (medium- and long-term trends in the weather). There are myriad environmental problems Trump never sees. Loss of orangutan habitat, and the possible extinction of that species. The contamination of soil by industry. The climate-related vast die-offs of trees in Colorado and California. The next massive storm that will slam the U.S. Southeast and perhaps take out New Orleans (again).

The idea that you can always just see for yourself what’s going on is a legacy of our animal ancestry. That’s the way it always was. Our chimpanzee ancestors could see, hear, or smell most of the threats coming their way. These days, we need the enhanced sensory apparatus of modern institutions like science and government agencies to know what’s going on because our problems are modern, not primitive.

Trump is not only ignoring such information, he’s deleting it from the public record, as scientists and others suspected he might.

If Trump doesn’t want to place some amount of faith in the most advanced knowledge-generating apparatuses in the world—global science, career E.P.A. employees, the American intelligence community, and so on—he won’t be able to align U.S. policy and action with the complex realities of the complex modern world.

He’ll be shooting in the dark, and the United States will be flying blind.                                                

My book: Invisible Nature

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Read more of my posts: The Green Mind