Today’s headlines: President Trump released an executive order to dismantle the environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration. Trump wants to put his focus on the economy.
Know what? He’s probably right. We’re going to need the money.
Global heating is a train barreling into the station; a skydiver plummeting to the ground; or any other cliched metaphor you can think up with an inevitable conclusion. We missed our chance long ago to apply the brakes, to pull the rip-cord. This chance was in the eighties, thirty years ago.
Implementing environmental regulations now seems like Wile E Coyote donning his ACME backpack. After our decades-long freefall and our bone-crushing collision with the earth, a small, white parachute will pop out of the pack and sink slowly to the ground. Obama’s changes were too little, and way too late.
In the 1980’s when I was just starting my adult career, global warming was constantly in the news. Scientists, with access to the fastest and most sophisticated computers yet made, were running models showing the effects of our rapidly increasing atmospheric carbon. Predictions included a warmer climate, erratic weather cycles and rising sea levels.
The predictions have been eerily accurate, right down to the flooding, the droughts, the intensifying storm systems and the death-inducing heat baking portions of our globe each summer. These predictions were made to a chorus of raspberries decades ago. My boss at the time, a guy holding a doctorate degree in oceanography, once told me “There is nothing humans can do to change the climate of our planet.”
Also modeled was a global heating tipping-point. A point where excess carbon (and methane) creates warming that releases additional carbon (and methane) which intensifies warming, and so on. This is when earth gets a break from humanity. Regions become uninhabitable because of heat. Coasts are flooded by melting glaciers and temperature-expanded oceans. Crops fail, water becomes scarce, diseases proliferate and of course someone detonates a nuclear bomb. This is the extinction event that gives inspiration to countless Hollywood blockbusters.
For decades, the tipping-point danger-zone was publicized at 350 carbon dioxide parts per million. That threshold is long past. Today we hover at a bit above 400.
So what does a tipping point look like? How do we know when it starts?
How do we know it hasn’t started already? Look at the chart above (legally used with proper attribution to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Our four most recent years are included in the five hottest years on record. The anomaly curve of 2014 through 2016 is so dramatic, it seems possible that we’re already tipping.
So, back to President Trump. He’s a business man. He knows everything has a cost, including a stable environment. And he’s already shown us that the environment isn’t something he values. In the coming years, we’ll experience disruptions and disasters at uneven intervals. Each one will be deemed an act of God. The wrath of Mother Nature. Just plain bad luck. Each of these events, predicted since the eighties, will be called unforeseen disasters. And each of these events will cost a fortune, leave us a little less surefooted than we once were.
So the best course for our country is no longer to care for our earth. It’s to prepare ourselves for some pretty rough weather.