Avoid the Trump factor in the fight against climate change

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Winter came a little late this year. Less than two weeks ago there was no snow on the ground here in Hope Ness. But it has arrived, as you can see. This is not at all unusual for mid-December: daily, “lake-effect” snow squalls coming off Lake Huron, the nearest of the Great Lakes. They will continue until the lake water cools down and starts to freeze over. So, it’s daily snow-blowing with my trusty tractor and attached snow-blower to keep the driveway clear. There’s no if, ands, or buts about it. It’s get up in the morning and go to work, stay on top of it, morning after morning, or risk getting snowed-in. Nothing like necessity for motivation in defiance of SADs and the aging process.

Still, I do worry like never before about the unpredictability of winter, how cold it might be, and how long it might last. That’s the climate-change “new normal” in these parts, on account of the increasing instability of the Jet Stream, caused by the fact the Arctic region is warming faster than the tropics. In the last few years huge lobes of the Jet Stream have dropped much further south than usual, and stalled, right over the Great Lakes for weeks on end. That’s the dreaded, Polar Vortex effect, with temperatures dipping to -35 degrees Celsius, as they did in the winter of 2015 here. Yes, the Arctic is warming at an alarming rate, Arctic Ocean sea-ice coverage is in retreat, vast areas of land permanently frozen for thousands of years are thawing, but it’s still darn cold up there in winter.

So, count me among those who regard global warming/climate change as an urgent threat the world is facing. It’s no doubt the underlying cause of out-of-control wildfires in California now, and previously in western Canada. It’s also the literal underlying cause of war, famine and the refugee crisis as drought and disappearing groundwater resources create social and political unrest.

The world was having a hard-enough time getting its climate-change act together before the Trump administration decided last summer to withdraw the U.S. from the now, two-year old Paris Agreement.

But the recent One Planet Summit of world leaders offered at least a glimmer of hope that the rest of the world will take over the reins of leadership and carry on.

The Summit was organized by Emmanuel Macron who, like Trump, is still relatively new to his job as President of France.

Trump was not one of the 50 world leaders invited to the Summit. But he was certainly a presence in other ways; for example, as the recipient of an underlying message, that, under Trump, the U.S. is quickly losing leadership stature in the world. The irony of Macron’s choice of slogan for the Summit, “Make Our Planet Great Again,” was too obvious to be missed as a reference to Trump – and, dare I say, one with more than a hint of mockery, and more than likely liable to get under the skin of the now notoriously thin-skinned U.S. President.

Is that really wise, to make fun of an unstable man who, after all, still commands immense power? Who knows where his wounded ego might choose to go. I’m inclined to think Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right to walk a fine, careful line with Trump; and not only because the Canadian economy has so much at stake in the still-ongoing, difficult NAFTA talks. Trump told a rally crowd in Pensacola, Florida this past week that he liked Trudeau, that he was a nice guy, a good guy. But he took pleasure in telling the admiring crowd in no uncertain terms how he had to set our PM straight on the U.S. trade deficit with Canada, which he blamed on NAFTA. Canadian trade officials say he’s wrong, for all the good that does. In the end, all Justin Trudeau’s making nice with Trump may come to nothing. It’s the nature of the man to turn on the people he once favoured for not showing him sufficient obeisance, like former FBI director James Comey.

It was heartening to see world leaders re-affirm the Paris Agreement pledge to take action against global warming. A major focus is on progressive limiting of the burning of fossil fuels and, as a result, the greenhouse-effect gases they produce

Coincidentally, and again, ironically, the annual report of a branch of the U.S. government, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), issued its annual report on conditions in the Arctic. It wasn’t all bad. The report noted many measurements showed 2017 was slightly less warming than 2016, which set a new record for heat.

“But scientists remain concerned because the far northern region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and has reached a level of warming that’s unprecedented in modern times,” said an Associated Press article about the report, published in the National Post.

Acting NOAA chief Timothy Gallaudet was quoted as saying “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic; it affects the rest of the planet. The Arctic has huge influence on the world at large.”

The “dramatic,” relatively sudden historical changes coincide with the large increase in carbon dioxide levels in the air from the burning of oil, gas and coal.

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This graph from the NOAA 2017 annual Arctic report shows the dramatic drop in the extent of Arctic sea ice in recent years compared with historic levels going back 1,500 years, based on research, including core samples

The Arctic is warming at about twice the rate of the rest of the world, and as a result disturbing and altering long-normal, global wind and weather patterns. Climate scientists are seeing a probable link between those changes and the destructive wildfires in California, and unusually cold, winter weather in the U.S. south-east.

The NOAA report may not sit at all well with Donald Trump, a global warming, climate change denier. That’s if he’s aware of it. The report made modest headlines for a day or two, but was soon lost in the midst of the continuing avalanche of other Trump-related news, including his ill-considered, news-generating tweets.

The Trump administration’s 2018 budget includes a 16 percent, or $900 million funding cut compared with the NOAA’s 2016 funding, says the on-line FYI Science Policy News of the American Institute of Physics.

“The decrease would be spread across NOAA’s six line offices, but the Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research (OAR), which houses most of the agency’s (research and development) would be hit particularly hard, with a 32 percent cut,” according to FYI.

NOAA scientists and researchers, and other staff, must already be looking over their shoulders, perhaps worried about getting noticed by Trump for all the wrong reasons, as they soldier on doing what they can to help save the world.

I don’t see how deliberately mocking Trump from a world stage about his global-warming, climate-change stance does anything to help the cause. It could even make things worse.

Better to remain silent on the Trump factor, than to invite a tweet storm or heaven knows what else. It’s a black hole that destroys anything that comes too close. Just get on with the urgent climate-change work. That says a bunch.

A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in December, 2017

 

 

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