An iceberg larger than Delaware is about to break off into the Weddell Sea. For the third year in a row, Earth’s average surface temperature was the warmest ever-recorded. Across the U.S. 2016 ranked as second hottest year on record with 15 weather-related disasters over $1 billion each, totaling $45 billion in losses.
There is no debate on these issues, but what the Trump administration does need to study is how we get out of this mess and what this really means for the United States and the rest of the world. So far all we have seen coming out of the new administration is denial that humans play a role in the changing climate, and the black out of government web pages that document and discuss the climate problem.
NASA estimates the recent strong El Nino boosted 2016 temperature about 25 percent. If climate models are correct, El Nino is going to recur with greater frequency and ferocity as the air continues to warm.
Here in Hawaii, El Nino is a big deal. In Honolulu the 2015-2016 El Nino produced 11 record-setting days of rainfall, 24 days of record-setting heat, massive ocean waves, a prolonged failure of the normally cooling trade winds, state-wide coral bleaching and nine months of drought. Urban flooding and heat waves characterized the late summer and early fall of 2015 straining our energy utility, emergency responders, and government resources. We had 15 tropical cyclones in local waters. In an average year we typically see only 3 or 4.
Another historic event happened recently, the American people installed a new administration that, while stating that climate change is real, does not believe humans have significant effects on the climate nor that climate change poses a meaningful threat to our way of life.
This attitude unabashedly ignores facts to the contrary: around the world global warming has increased drought by 10 percent and extreme rainfall 12 percent. Record hot days now outnumber cold days by 12 to 1. Nine of the 10 deadliest heat waves in history have occurred since 2000 and is responsible for 140,000 deaths.
The number of insured weather-related loss events has tripled globally over the past three decades, the tropics are expanding and the Arctic is melting. Climate-related local extinctions (where species have left historic ranges to move to cooler latitudes and elevations) have already occurred with hundreds of plants and animals.
The global percentage of bleached reefs tripled over the past three decades. The West Antarctic ice sheet is retreating much faster than researchers expected, and scientists best estimates of worst case sea level rise by the end of the century have been raised from 3 feet in 2013 to 8 feet today.
As we move forward into a hotter and more dangerous future, led by an administration that denies this reality, the need for a vigilant media to report on climate change has never been more urgent.
Scientists must increase efforts to bring these facts to the public’s attention, and the public must take responsibility for monitoring news of climate change. It’s not that hard to raise your level of understanding such that climate change becomes a comfortable topic of discussion.
NGOs, foundations and corporations should step in to the research-funding gap that will likely develop as this administration, and a willing Congress, enacts cuts to federal research in the Earth and environmental sciences.
The renewable energy marketplace has grown more robust, but this status is fragile. As former President Obama has pointed out, between 2008 and 2015 national CO2 emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5 percent while the economy grew by 10 percent. This decoupling of greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth signals to the world that in the U.S., combating climate change does not mean lower growth or fewer jobs.
It is estimated that a global temperature increase of 4o degrees, currently projected by late mid-century if greenhouse gases are not rapidly curtailed, will cost the American economy in the form of lost jobs and reduced federal revenue of $340 billion to $690 billion per year. In order to achieve the prosperous future that President Trump has promised us all, eventually he must recognize that climate change threatens public safety and the American economy. The sooner he does this, the sooner the world will become a safer place.
If we love our children and grandchildren more than we love ourselves, forward progress on adapting to and mitigating climate change must continue, in fact it must accelerate.
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