Several years ago, I asked a farmer friend of mine in Decatur County if he was seeing the impacts of climate change. “More severe weather events,” he responded.
Last month, I visited friends at their Colorado cabin about 10,500 feet elevation between Keystone and A-Basin and queried whether they’ve noticed change. “We can grow stuff up here these days,” he said. “We used to never be able to grow anything.”
David George Haskell, a professor of biology at the University of the South, notes, “In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the northern hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade. I’m nearly 50, so springtime has moved, on average, a full two weeks since I was born.”
President Trump and Vice President Pence have announced that the United States will pull out of the Paris climate accords, signed by more than 175 nations. The U.S. will join Syria and Nicaragua as nations spurning the agreement. Trump is fulfilling a campaign promise to pull out of Paris, just as he has with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trump has deemed the notion of man-made climate change as a “hoax” that hinders U.S. economic growth. Pence, when he was in Congress, flatly stated that “global warming is a myth” and that “the earth is actually cooler today than it was about 50 years ago.” He added, “We will leave the scientific debates for the future.”
The Trump climate pullout comes after 2016 was proven to be the hottest on record. Global sea level rose about eight inches in the last century, but the rate has nearly doubled in the past two decades.
The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere, NASA states. Researchers believe that a 3.6 degree change is the tipping point that will make earth’s atmosphere hostile to civilization. Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years.
Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 36 to 60 cubic miles of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 36 cubic miles between 2002 and 2005. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world, including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
Three former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency serving presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush41 — William Ruckleshaus, Lee M. Thomas and William K. Reilly — observed in a recent Washington Post op-ed article, “We can see already, in many places here and around the world, concrete evidence of what climate change means. Sea-level rise along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States has increased, and with it have come significant increases in coastal erosion and flooding. The past three years have been the hottest on record; the 10 hottest years all occurred since 1998. When Glacier National Park in Montana was established in 1910, it contained 150 active glaciers; today there are 26.”
The EPA trio note that President Trump’s proposed budget “scrubbed every agency and department of expenditures that would provide us with vital information about the pace and impacts of climate change. With no seeming clue as to what’s going on, the president seems to have cast our lot with a small coterie of climate skeptics and their industry allies rather than trying to better understand the impact of increased greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere,” these Republicans said. “His policy of willful ignorance is a bet-the-house approach that is destructive of responsible government.”
Then there is the diplomatic toll. Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who served under President Reagan, said recently about Paris, “Global statecraft relies on trust, reputation and credibility, which can be all too easily squandered. … If America fails to honor a global agreement that it helped forge, the repercussions will undercut our diplomatic priorities across the globe.”
In pulling out of Paris and the TPP, the United States is essentially ceding leadership based on Western standards and rule of law to China. It is asserting itself in filling a vacuum left by the U.S. in solar panel manufacturing. China has scrapped plans for 100 coal-fired power plants. After Trump pulled out of the TPP, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced his “Road and Belt Plan” designed to spread hundreds of billions of dollars in building ports, railways, power plants and pipelines.
Trump and Pence repeatedly vow to bring back coal jobs. But Duke University researchers state that between 2008-2012, electricity generated from coal declined 24 percent, while electricity generated from natural gas, wind and solar grew by 39 percent, 154 percent and 400 percent, respectively. The coal industry lost more than 49,000 jobs while in the natural gas, solar, and wind industries, employment increased by nearly 175,000 jobs.
What we are witnessing in the early stage of the Trump/Pence administration is a United States retreat from the world order.
BRIAN HOWEY is publisher of the Howey Political Report, a weekly briefing on Indiana politics. Contact him at 317-506-0883 or at howeypol itics.com.