By MATTHEW DI FEDE / Contributing Writer
That tweet was fabricated on January 1, 2014. The next three years went on to be the hottest years on record with 24 months breaking global temperature records. 16 of those were consecutive. The last time Earth was cooler than the 20th century average was 1976. With the ending of El Niño, a cyclical warming of the ocean that occurs every 2-7 years, it’s not far-fetched to say 2017 will be another record breaking year. But Earth will continue to warm.
One study estimates that by 2050 it’s possible that the Middle East and North Africa will become hot enough for it to become uninhabitable. An area of 500 million people will witness nights that will not go below 86ºF and summer days that will reach 116ºF. Will the world be ready to deal with the sequential environmental refugees? European refugee camps are already struggling under an overflow of refugees facing dangerous road to asylum. Mediterranean Sea arrivals in 2016 led to 5,022 dead or missing migrants. On the 15th of January a boat carrying 100 migrants sank off the coast of Libya. Only 4 people survived. Europe saw 1.25 million asylum applicants in 2015. What will happen to Europe and the world when even more countries seek refuge?
On November 4, 2016 the Paris Agreement was enacted by 197 countries coming together to combat the threat of climate change. Currently, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years. By reducing the emissions of greenhouse gasses the Paris Agreement seeks in “keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius”. To put that into perspective, 2016 was 0.94 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and global temperatures increase at a rate of 0.17 degrees Celsius. These numbers may seem small and meaningless but the temperature of the last ice age was only 5 degrees Celsius colder than today (and America was covered by 12,000 feet of ice). But now it is a lack of ice that is causing concern in our 49th state.
The Earth’s poles have been warming faster than the rest of the planet and this has started to cause noticeable effects in America’s northernmost city: Barrow, Alaska. Arctic sea ice is shrinking at a rate of 13.3% per decade. In Barrow, sea ice has shrunk by 40% since 1978. Enough ice has melted that the Northern Passage has become navigable, allowing easy access between the Eastern United States and Asia. While this may sound great for business and shipping, the military has other concerns. An increase of wildfires and floods has threatened military sites while thawing permafrost has caused $500,000 in damage to roads. In 2014, The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing how the Department of Defense (DoD) could respond to the impacts of climate change. This report concluded that the loss of sea ice, thawing permafrost, and rising sea levels “increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations” and “damaged roads, seawalls, and runways”. Furthermore, “officials on a Navy installation told GAO that sea level rise and resulting storm surge are the two largest threats to their waterfront infrastructure.” In 2015, the DoD released a report stating “Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.”
The DoD is not the only government agency to recognize the threat climate change presents. The Department of State’s Office of Global Change released their Climate Action Plan in 2014. This plan aims to reduce carbon and promote clean sources of energy. The Department of Energy states that climate change is a top priority citing wildfires, droughts, and rising temperature as encumbering the nation’s energy infrastructure. The U.S. Navy released a Climate Change Roadmap in 2010 with objectives to observe and adapt to climate change and there is also the U.S Global Change Research Program that is backed by thirteen U.S agencies. Mandated by Congress, the program is tasked with researching climate change, preparing the nation for global change and assessing climate change’s effects on health. In 2016 the program received a budget of $2.6 billion with more than half of funds disbursed by NASA. Yet despite all the evidence, research and consensus there are still those that reject the concept of climate change.
President Trump is one such person. From tweeting that global warming is a hoax (created by the Chinese) to blatantly stating on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show “I’m not a believer in global warming” he has voiced his opinion on climate change. Now of course, not surprisingly, Trump went on to say that he was just joking about that whole hoax thing. What is surprising, however, is that in 2016 Trump International Golf Link Ireland filed an application to build a sea wall to protect Trump Doonberg from erosion caused by rising sea levels (average sea levels have risen 7” in the past 100 years). Nonetheless, dispelling any notion that perhaps he had a change of heart, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus made it very clear on Fox News that Trump “has his default position, which is that most of it is a bunch of bunk.”
Trump’s Department of Energy nominee Rick Perry shares these viewpoints. In his 2010 book Fed Up!, he called climate change “a contrived phony mess.” In 2011, he said that “I don’t think from my perspective I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven.” It’s important to note that a scientific theory is an explanation of the natural world that can be confirmed through repeated testing and observations. Hopefully, Mr. Perry understands this before being confirmed as Secretary of Energy. During his confirmation hearings Perry backed down on his previous beliefs, stating that he believes in climate change but that is partially natural and partially anthropogenic. Rick Perry has received over $11,000,000 in political donations from the oil and gas industry, the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions. Rick Perry was also on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, a natural gas and propane company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Perry resigned from the company this year.
With President Trump’s initial vows to cancel the Paris Agreement and then his eventual claim that he will keep an “open mind”, it’s difficult to see what America’s role in combating climate change will be in the next four years. We already know that he wants to somehow bring back “clean” coal while also encouraging the use of natural gas, despite them being in direct competition of each other. We already know he thinks wind turbines are killing birds in excess, despite windmills contributing to only 300,000 bird deaths a year compared to the 6.8 million from cell towers and 1.7 billion from household cats. We already know that he thinks solar power is too expensive, despite solar power costs hitting record lows last year. Let’s just hope the rest of the world continues to treat climate change as the threat that it is.