Trump’s obfuscation on the climate crisis

Following Donald Trump’s interview with Piers Morgan on Wednesday where he talked about the weather changing “both ways,” noted that “it used to be called global warming,” then “climate change,” and now “it’s actually called extreme weather,” Eugene Robinson wrote: “it’s breathtaking that anyone could pack so much ignorance into so few words.”

Robinson is doing what so many others do: treat Trump’s statements on the climate crisis as though they merely reflect his ignorance on the issue.

The remedy for ignorance would be education.

On Monday, Prince Charles’ one and a half hours’ effort to educate Trump could have been driven by the assumption that if the Prince of Wales did all the talking, at least he wouldn’t have to be subject to as much drivel coming out of the U.S. president’s mouth. More likely, however, Britain’s heir to the throne naively hoped that he might be able to leverage his status and knowledge and help illuminate a small, dark, and vacuous mind.

The problem is this: to view Trump’s position on climate as merely a reflection of his ignorance is to gloss over so much evidence that Trump’s words and actions reveal calculated deceit.

It isn’t so much that Trump doesn’t get the issue; his conscious purpose is to deceive others in the service of his material interests.

Commentators who write op-eds or appear on television are hesitant to call out all Trump’s deceptions when they masquerade as ignorance. In part this is because the identification of such deceptions implies access to Trump’s thoughts and motives; equally it is because the audience being addressed needs no persuading that Trump is an idiot.

Needless to say, no one has direct access to another person’s mind. We rely on self reporting and inferences derived from behavior to form a picture of an interior life we cannot observe. And yet to be human is to make use of a working knowledge of other people such that we are not perpetually constrained by existential doubt — forced to treat everyone else as though their internal workings were a complete mystery.

Trump’s purpose in pushing back on the issue of the climate crisis is quite transparent — no mind-reading required. He actively tries to promote confusion by insinuating that the evolution in scientific terminology means climate scientists are themselves engaged in deception.

“Don’t forget, it used to be called global warming; that wasn’t working, then it was called climate change,” Trump says, employing the seemingly casual phrase “wasn’t working,” to signal to his audience that scientists are out to fool the public.

Trump is characterizing climate science as though it is a cynical exercise in messaging where terms get picked up only to later be discarded because they are failing to further the agenda of those who, from Trump’s point of view, could simply be described as the enemies of the fossil fuel industry.

Stated crudely, Trump and his business allies are fighting against those they see as the enemies of profit.

Following his meeting with Prince Charles, Trump’s most revealing statement was this:

“I’ll tell you what moved me is his passion for future generations,” Trump told Morgan. “He’s really not doing this for him; he’s doing this for future generations. And this is real — he believes that; he wants to have a world that’s good for future generations, and I do, too. You know, he’s Prince Charles; he doesn’t have to worry about future generations in theory unless he’s a very good person who cares about people. That’s what impressed maybe me the most, his love for this world.”

Here’s a man who, by Trump’s standards (and those of many other people), has the highest possible social status. In the not too distant future, he will be crowned as king. By virtue of that status (from Trump’s perspective) Charles has no need to worry about future generations.

Like many sad Americans, Trump seems to view wearing a gold and jeweled crown as the ultimate social achievement, signifying a rank above everyone else — as though with this lofty status there would be no reason to care about the little people below. And yet here’s a future king, very close to Trump’s age, who cares about other people and the world and the future. How remarkable!

That Trump could be moved by Charles’ passion for future generations says everything about his own lack of such passion.

The only fact about the future that matters to Donald Trump is that it won’t be very long before it’s a future in which he is absent.

The world Trump inhabits is a world in which all that matters is his presence.

Whether his properties are destined to be submerged under rising seas is of little consequence to a man who believes that after his death, everything will become worthless.

The end of the Arctic as we know it

Jonathan Watts writes:

The demise of an entire ocean is almost too enormous to grasp, but as the expedition sails deeper into the Arctic, the colossal processes of breakdown are increasingly evident.

The first fragment of ice appears off the starboard bow a few miles before the 79th parallel in the Fram strait, which lies between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The solitary floe is soon followed by another, then another, then clusters, then swarms, then entire fields of white crazy paving that stretch to the horizon.

From deck level it is a stunning sight. But from high above, drones and helicopters capture the bigger, more alarming picture: a slow-motion blast pattern of frozen shrapnel radiating from the high Arctic southwards through this strait, which is the interchange of 80% of the water between the ice cap and the world’s oceans.

This is where ice floes come to die, and the cemetery is filling faster each year, according to the leader of this scientific expedition, Till Wagner, of the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). One of the objectives of the expedition is to investigate why the collapse of Arctic ice is happening faster than climate computer models predict and to understand what this augurs for the rest of the planet. [Continue reading…]

Climate crisis: Global failure of political leadership is forcing young people to rise up and demand radical action now


Can soil solve the climate crisis?

Kenneth Miller writes:

When Rattan Lal was awarded the Japan Prize for Biological Production, Ecology in April—the Asian equivalent of a Nobel—the audience at Tokyo’s National Theatre included the emperor and empress. Lal’s acceptance speech, however, was down-to-earth in the most literal sense.

“I’d like to begin, rather unconventionally, with the conclusion of my presentation,” he told the assembled dignitaries. “And the conclusion is four words: In soil we trust.”

That statement could serve as the motto for a climate crisis-fighting strategy that has gained remarkable momentum over the past five years or so—and whose rise to international prominence was reflected in that glittering award ceremony. Lal, a septuagenarian professor of soil science at Ohio State University, is one of the foremost exponents of carbon farming, an approach that centers on correcting a man-made, planetary chemical imbalance.

The chemical in question is carbon. Too much of it in the atmosphere (in the form of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas) is the main driver of global heating. Too little of it in the soil is the bane of farmers in many parts of the world, and a threat to our ability to feed a ballooning global population. Advocates say agriculture can mitigate both problems—by adopting techniques that keep more soil carbon from escaping skyward, and draw more atmospheric carbon down into fields and pastures. [Continue reading…]

Climate crisis seriously damaging human health, report finds

The Guardian reports:

A report by experts from 27 national science academies has set out the widespread damage global heating is already causing to people’s health and the increasingly serious impacts expected in future.

Scorching heatwaves and floods will claim more victims as extreme weather increases but there are serious indirect effects too, from spreading mosquito-borne diseases to worsening mental health.

“There are impacts occurring now [and], over the coming century, climate change has to be ranked as one of the most serious threats to health,” said Prof Sir Andrew Haines, a co-chair of the report for the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (Easac).

However, there were also great benefits from action to cut carbon emissions, the report found, most notably cutting the 350,000 early deaths from air pollution every year in Europe caused by burning fossil fuels. “The economic benefits of action to address the current and prospective health effects of climate change are likely to be substantial,” the report concluded. [Continue reading…]

Climate change is our World War III. It needs a bold response

Joseph Stiglitz writes:

Advocates of the Green New Deal say there is great urgency in dealing with climate change and highlight the scale and scope of what is required to combat it. They are right. They use the term “New Deal” to evoke the massive response by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the United States government to the Great Depression. An even better analogy would be the country’s mobilization to fight World War II.

Critics ask, “Can we afford it?” and complain that Green New Deal proponents confound the fight to preserve the planet, to which all right-minded individuals should agree, with a more controversial agenda for societal transformation. On both accounts the critics are wrong.

Yes, we can afford it, with the right fiscal policies and collective will. But more importantly, we must afford it. Climate change is our World War III. Our lives and civilization as we know it is at stake, just as they were in World War II.

When the US was attacked during the second world war no one asked, “Can we afford to fight the war?” It was an existential matter. We could not afford not to fight it. The same goes for climate change. Here, we are already experiencing the direct costs of ignoring the issue – in recent years the country has lost almost 2% of GDP in weather-related disasters, which include floods, hurricanes, and forest fires. The cost to our health from climate-related diseases is just being tabulated, but it, too, will run into the tens of billions of dollars – not to mention the as-yet-uncounted number of lives lost. We will pay for climate change one way or another, so it makes sense to spend money now to reduce emissions rather than wait until later to pay a lot more for the consequences – not just from weather but also from rising sea levels. It’s a cliche, but it’s true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The war on climate change, if correctly waged, would actually be good for the economy – just as the second world war set the stage for America’s golden economic era , with the fastest rate of growth in its history amidst shared prosperity. The Green New Deal would stimulate demand, ensuring that all available resources were used; and the transition to the green economy would likely usher in a new boom. Trump’s focus on the industries of the past, like coal, is strangling the much more sensible move to wind and solar power. More jobs by far will be created in renewable energy than will be lost in coal. [Continue reading…]

My green manufacturing plan for America

Elizabeth Warren writes:

While much of the debate around the Green New Deal has focused on the path to aggressive reductions in domestic greenhouse gas emissions, the science is clear: even if we reduce America’s emissions so that they are net-zero by 2030, we will still fall far short of the reduction in global emissions needed to avert a climate crisis. To satisfy this global need, we need rapid innovation on par with the space race along with widespread domestic and international adoption of clean, renewable, and emission-free energy technology.

This is a challenge — but like the challenges America has faced before, it is also an opportunity.

Over the next decade, the expected market for clean energy technology in emerging economies alone is $23 trillion. America should dominate this new market. We have the creative researchers, the skilled workers, and the basic infrastructure to develop, manufacture, and export the technology the world needs to confront the existential threat of climate change.

Here’s my plan for that: Invest $2 trillion over the next ten years in green research, manufacturing, and exporting — linking American innovation directly to American jobs, and helping achieve the ambitious targets of the Green New Deal. [Continue reading…]

UK and Trump are diametrically opposed on the necessity of tackling the climate crisis

Mark Lynas writes:

Fresh from the latest disasters on Brexit, surely the last thing the UK needs is a state visit from the world’s provocateur-in-chief, Donald Trump.

Trump’s position on Brexit — bring it on — may be divisive, but his denialist and pro-coal view on global heating and the climate crisis is even more extreme and makes him particularly unwelcome at this moment in Britain.

The British parliament declared a ‘climate emergency’ in May, while a day later the government’s chief advisory committee on climate change recommended that the UK should aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

During the previous month, protesters from Extinction Rebellion took over strategic points in central London for several days to demand even tougher action to combat the climate crisis. A simultaneous visit by the teenage Swedish climate school striker Greta Thunberg saw politicians from across the political spectrum vying to declare their support.

As part of the global climate school strike movement, the UK has now seen several day-long protests by tens of thousands of schoolchildren, who argue convincingly that their futures are imperiled by the world’s dithering in the face of the climate emergency.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, mocks renewable energy, brags about the US once again being the world’s largest producer of oil, and tries to resuscitate America’s ailing coal industry.

His decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accords left America embarrassingly isolated. Even the last hold-out — war-torn Syria — decided to sign the agreement in November 2017, leaving Trump’s America in a minority of one. [Continue reading…]

Kids suing the U.S. over climate crisis are getting global support

Quartz reports:

In 2015, when a group of 21 children and teens first sued the US government over climate change, their claim in Juliana v. US was not totally new—youth in Uganda and the Netherlands had filed somewhat similar environmental suits—but it seemed a little strange. Shouldn’t these kids be playing video games or something, doing pretty much anything but litigating to save the planet?

Now, the plaintiffs in Juliana v. US are part of an increasingly vocal global movement of young environmental activists leading the fight against climate catastrophe, most visible among them Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, who has chided world leaders for failing to take action. And they are banding together. In March, Thunberg inspired a worldwide protest, with kids skipping school to make the point that their future is on the line because of climate change. On June 1, youth activists will host nearly 100 coordinated press conferences across the US and worldwide announcing new local actions to fight the climate crisis in a show of solidarity with the American plaintiffs who have a hearing before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 4.

The young Americans, some of whom are now adults, argue that they have a constitutional right to a stable climate that sustains life on Earth. While this right is obviously not enumerated in the US Constitution, they say that it is implied by the document. By adopting policies that promote fossil fuel use, leading to the emission of carbon dioxide at rates that change the climate, despite knowing these energy sources are warming the planet, the federal government violates “the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property,” they wrote in their 2015 complaint (pdf). The plaintiffs also contend that the government is failing to protect essential resources held in trust for the public. [Continue reading…]

Facebook is an enemy of the effort to avert catastrophic climate change, scientists say

Joe Romm reports:

ThinkProgress asked some experts what Facebook’s latest actions mean for the national conversation on climate change.

“Facebook is complicit in spreading outright falsehoods and misinforming the public about matters of public concern,” environmental sociologist Robert Brulle wrote in an email. The company’s “refusal to take down this blatant distortion of Speaker Pelosi shows that they are an irresponsible actor, and contributing to the decline of public discourse.”

Brulle explained that Facebook’s actions are particularly disastrous since there are so many issues critical to public well-being that require an accurately informed public, such as vaccinations and climate change.

[Michael] Mann, who is director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, was equally blunt. “This shows that Facebook is in fact complicit with bad actors seeking to spread disinformation throughout the internet,” he said. “We must view them now as another tool in the toolbox used by fossil fuel interests and plutocrats to confuse the public and policymakers.”

Because Facebook refuses to be a responsible actor, Brulle concluded, “Senator Elizabeth Warren is right — it is time to break up Facebook.” [Continue reading…]