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Sun 17 November 2019
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Why do irrefutable scientific data and observable changes in climate patterns still not compel the US to take action on climate change?


“We have to walk as slow as our slowest person to keep society… moving,” joked the Australian-born comic Jim Jefferies when talking about the US’ refusal to address what has become a mass shooting epidemic. But, his quip could also apply to the Trump administration’s stubborn denial of climate change science.

While a record number of Americans describe climate change as a real and present danger – 69% of the total population feel “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the consequences of global warming – only 32% of Donald Trump’s Republican Party express the same sentiments.

As for climate scientists, a recently published study found that consensus on man-made changes in the earth’s atmosphere among the world’s 10,000 climate scientists has surpassed 99%.

But, as California finds itself besieged by roughly a dozen bush fires – including the Kincade fire, which has already burned through more than 76,000 acres; the Tick fire, which has scorched more than 4,600 acres; and the South fire, which has destroyed 2,500 acres – Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his mostly Trump-supporting viewers that these fires are a result of the utility company PG&E being too focused on hiring a racially, ethnically and sexually diverse workforce.

“PG&E strikes me as almost a metaphor for the destruction of the state,” he said. “Here’s the utility which doesn’t really know anything about its own infrastructure but knows everything about the race of its employees. How did we get there?”

To borrow Jefferies’ quip, Carlson and his Fox News audience are evidently the slowest among us and thus we can only walk as fast as them to save ourselves from what is now an irrefutable and fully-fledged climate crisis.

In the seven years I’ve lived in southern California, it is almost impossible to recall a lengthy period of time where parts of the state weren’t ablaze, and it’s even more difficult to recall a year in which there wasn’t at least one catastrophic wildfire. In fact, 14 of the 20 most destructive fires in California’s history have occurred since 2007, and the fire season is now three months longer in duration each year than it was when climate scientists predicted as much more than 30 years ago.

“When 2018 became the worst fire year on record, we recognised a new reality,” observe Julie Cart and Judy Lin for Cal Matters. “Now, each year could surpass the last, setting records for the size, destruction, cost and loss of life.” A state-commissioned report terrifyingly predicts that the average burn area in California will increase by 77% by the end of the century.

Almost every year since 2000, California has been in a state of “moderate”, “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, with 2014 to 2017 experiencing the least amount of rainfall in the history of the state.

Despite the fact that Californians are witnessing ever more frequent and destructive wild fires at the same time as other parts of the country are experiencing ever more powerful hurricanes, colder winter storms, longer droughts – among other observable changes in climate patterns – almost 70% of Americans say that they wouldn’t pay $10 every month to help cool our warming planet.

What will it take before Americans are willing to accept both observable reality and the need to do something about it, because clearly the proven predictions of climate science and the unfolding climate catastrophe is evidently yet to sink in?

To remain a climate change denier or sceptic is to pretend none of the following climate change realities are occurring before your eyes:

  • July 2019 was the planet’s hottest month on record.
  • July 2019 was the 43rd July in a row – and the 415th consecutive month – with temperatures falling above the 20th Century average.
  • Seven of the 10 warmest years on earth have occurred in the past decade.
  • Arctic sea ice is at a record low, falling 20% below average.
  • The Arctic’s strongest sea ice broke up for the first time in history, which is described as “scary” by meteorologists and an “economic time bomb” by economists because it is assumed that this would be the “final northern holdout against the melting effects of a hotter planet”.
  • Six of the 10 most powerful hurricanes to hit the US have occurred since 2004.
  • October 2019 had the coldest ever recorded temperature for the continental US, breaking the previous record from 2017.

In short, the earth’s temperature is rising, storms are intensifying, the equator is becoming wetter, and everything between 30 to 60 degrees north and south of the equator is becoming drier – as climate scientists forecast decades ago it would. Yet, climate science sceptism and denial stubbornly persists.

In 2005, James Annan, a climate scientist at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, forced sceptics to put up or shut up, offering a $10,000 wager that the earth would continue warming through 2017. Eventually, a pair of solar physicists at the Institute of Solar-Terrestrial Physics in Russia accepted the bet. The winner would be decided by comparing global surface temperatures from 1998 to 2003 with those between 2012 to 2017. Surprise – the climate scientist won, but the Russian sceptics are yet to pay up.

Commenting on three recently published peer-reviewed studies, which drew upon “extensive historical data to show there has never been a period in the last 2,000 years when temperature changes have been as fast and extensive as in recent decades”, a professor of climatology at University College London, Mark Maslin, said that this “should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”.

One would hope that the irrefutable scientific data and observable changes in climate patterns would compel the United States to finally take action. But, alas – we can only walk as fast as the slowest among us.


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