Keeping Our Eyes on the Ball

Current events such as the Coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests rightfully demand our attention, but we should not lose sight of our over-arching problem:  global warming.

I am in no way trying to minimize the horrible human and economic consequences of the pandemic or suggest that we can or should delay for a moment the elimination of racism and the use of excessive force in policing.  Rather, I’m saying that in the grand scheme of things, maintaining an environment that is capable of supporting our civilization dwarfs all other issues.  We are capable of and we will eventually effectively deal with the Coronavirus.  Racism is a much tougher, entrenched foe, but that too can be defeated.  On the other hand, our environment is rapidly deteriorating and we seem to be going about our routine lives with little concern, no comprehensive plan of action and absolutely no leadership.  In fact, Trump is actively and aggressively working against taking corrective action. 

Earth is our home.  Humans can inhabit only about 12% of Earth’s land area and just 4% of the total surface area, including the seas.  Even a large part of the 12% of the land we use is rapidly deteriorating due to extreme climatic changes.  Our home is shrinking while our population is increasing.  This is unsustainable.

You can be forgiven for not noticing environmental news during the pandemic and protests, but on June 5, 2020 it was announced that the annual measurement of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was the highest in human history.  The prior record was 2019.  Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that is the primary cause of global warming.  Carbon dioxide builds up over time in the atmosphere.  As one scientist explains it, carbon dioxide buildup “is a bit like trash in a landfill.  As we keep emitting, it keeps piling up.”  Carbon dioxide is primarily a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil & gas.  We know as a scientific fact proven beyond all controversy that global warming is occurring rapidly, that carbon dioxide buildup is the primary cause, and that our human activities are responsible for the excessive carbon dioxide emissions.  Faced with those facts, any rational leader who cared anything at all about his country and humanity in general would take immediate concrete steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because our survival literally demands it and the primary responsibility of any leader is to protect the lives of the citizens of his country.  This primary duty seems plain as day, but also on June 5, 2020 it was announced that Trump chose this moment of societal and economic chaos to take action by executive orders to speed the construction of fossil fuel energy projects and to permanently weaken federal authority to issue clean air and climate change rules.  He even had the gall to use the pandemic as the basis for issuing the orders under his claimed “emergency authority.”  As Richard Lazarus, professor of environmental law at Harvard said:  “When it comes to trying to unravel this nation’s environmental protection laws, this administration never sleeps.”  This astute observation is clearly borne out not only by these new executive orders, but also by the 60 environmental rules. 

Based upon his record, one could legitimately ask if Trump is the enemy of the environment. The overwhelming, indeed, uncontradicted record demands a verdict of “guilty.”  Even if we ask the kinder, gentler question of what has he done for the environment, the unequivocal answer is “nothing.” 

I heard a commentator recently analogize a chronic societal problem to putting a frog in a pan of cool water and increasing the heat so gradually that the frog didn’t realize it was in big trouble until it was too late.  I’ve never done this, so I don’t know if it’s true, but the imagery is useful when considering global warming.  Every single day we are adding to the load of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (our landfill).  The immutable laws of nature require that an overabundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will cause overheating of the planet.  Overheating will, in turn, cause a cascade of irreversible climatic changes that are incompatible with the civilization we now enjoy.  If we are like the frog in the pot, it’s time to jump. 

For more about this topic, see the New York Times of June 5, 2020 and the editorial of Elena Craft and Professor Andrew Dessler (TAMU) which appeared in the Houston Chronicle of June 5, 2020.