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By now it is old news—but still real, not fake. We are moving inexorably toward a tipping point when it will no longer be possible to avoid a level of global climate warming that will be catastrophic to human societies across the world, including our own. The latest warning comes from a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), summarizing what it would take to limit warming to 1.5º C., and making the case that 1.5º would be measurably less catastrophic than 2º.

Climate Change Disaster

The 59 drafting authors of the report come from all over the world and represent the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists worldwide. The point is that we have already experienced a global rise of 1º C., and we are on track to get above 2º unless we take more drastic measures to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. There are technologies available for reducing emissions to net zero, but adopting them on a global basis would require more political will by world leaders than we have seen so far. Even if we got to net zero, warming would continue, but could be kept below 1.5º.

The consequences of failure are catastrophic both to human societies and to ecosystems. For example, large agricultural regions such as California’s Central Valley could be put out of production. Arctic and Antarctic ice caps could disintegrate, raising sea levels by many meters and releasing methane now stored in permafrost, further accelerating warming. The productivity of ocean fisheries could collapse. Small island nations like the Maldives could be submerged. Millions of climate refugees could wander the world.

Now, all science, including climate science, is inherently uncertain, as hypotheses are continually tested against observations. But this phenomenon of global climate change has been studied exhaustively for decades. Predictions made thirty and forty years ago are being verified with striking accuracy. Virtually all scientists who study the climate agree that global warming is happening, and that there is no adequate explanation for what is happening except human-generated emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as a result of industrialization over the last 250 years.

Trump fancies himself a leader; here he dramatically refuses to lead, refuses to tell his people the truth, even though many of them—or their children and grandchildren—will suffer dire consequences from his failure to act.

The response to this global crisis by a substantial sector of American conservatives (including key environmental policy-makers and President Trump himself) has been to cast doubt on the findings and to question the integrity of the scientists themselves. The administration formally withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord previously signed by President Obama, and it has actively promoted policies such as coal-burning power plants that directly work against controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Far from conservative, this stance is strikingly reckless.

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Skepticism about scientific authority has always been present in American culture (think of the the persistence of creationism, for example), but it has generally been a minority current in a society that largely trusted scientists to tell the objective truth. Now we have one of our major political parties and close to half the population that refuse to accept scientific findings that are overwhelmingly supported by verifiable data.

People naturally don’t want to believe that they will have to radically change their ways of life in order to avoid consequences even worse. What is unique in our present situation is that leaders, who ought to know better, are actively abetting this popular skepticism. Maybe some of them really believe the conspiracy theories about climate change being a hoax. But more likely they are just cynically seeking short-term political advantage. That certainly appears to be the case with Trump himself.

Trump fancies himself a leader; here he dramatically refuses to lead, refuses to tell his people the truth, even though many of them—or their children and grandchildren—will suffer dire consequences from his failure to act.

It is a sign of a small mind that he fails to see that, were he to take this threat seriously and exercise the leading power of the United States in helping the world to confront it, he would be seen as the world’s savior, a hero. America would be great again.

Instead, future generations will look back and see that we knew what the problem was, we knew what to do, and yet the most powerful leader in the world actively subverted a solution.

impeachment unavoidable

Future generations—those who survive—will recognize a massive crime against humanity.

John Peeler