The People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29, 2017, flooded Washington, DC, with over 100,000 protesters. Organizers claimed 150,000, with marches in 330 other cities across the country and in three dozen solidarity events abroad. Coinciding with President Trump’s 100th day in office, the marchers also protested his anti-environmental actions.
The previous Saturday (April 22, 2017), thousands of scientists marched to protest the Trump administration’s belittling of science. The demonstrations were planned for Earth Day to signal a particular concern with the enormity of current climate policy. Across the US and in hundreds of cities across the globe, more than 600 actions on every continent including Antarctica, they excoriated the president with disparaging signs likening him to all kinds of toxins generally orange colored. When have scientists marched like this? They are clearly worried.
Contrary to the administration’s cavalier attitude, climate change is not a belief; it is a determined fact, measurable and rationally undeniable. Just about every major international scientific academy endorses it, including the US National Academy of Sciences.
The melting Arctic ice, the plight of polar bears, the pollution registered even in Arctic snow … none of it has been enough to deter this president. He asked theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January to remove the climate change page from its website, which also carried links to emission data and scientific research. He wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, arrived at after great effort and now ratified by 144 countries out of the 197 participants. In typical Trump fashion, he later added he might stay on if the US got a better deal.
On March 28, he signed an executive order attempting to roll back the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and its restrictions on coal. He said it would bring jobs back to the coal mining communities.
While of much concern, it may not be as easy as he thinks. One might also have noticed the power companies (the main users of coal) are not rushing in to support Mr. Trump.
There is a good reason. The CPP generated discussion at all levels of society when it was proposed. The initial draft produced more than 4.3 million comments because the Environmental Protection Agency made extraordinary efforts to inform, conduct public hearings, hold joint discussions between regulators and power producers, and encourage collaborations between federal energy bodies. It was all designed to change the perspectives and motivations of stakeholders. In this, the EPA succeeded, so much so that even if the Trump administration prevails in its roll back, it is unlikely to find many takers.
At present, a full 44 percent of the US power supply is generated in coal-fired power plants. As of 2012, there were 572 such operational stations generating an average of 547 megawatts.
The pollution from this coal burning comes in many forms: toxic emissions, smog, soot, acid rain and global warming. To those who deny man-made CO2 as a contributor to global warming, there is an irrefutable answer. Carbon in CO2 released from the burning of fossil fuels presents a unique signature through delta13C negation. This is because plants have less of the 13C isotope of carbon than that in the atmosphere so that the burning of fossil fuels reduces the isotope in the atmosphere. It is measured as negative delta13C. The more negative the delta13C (as atmospheric CO2 increases), the higher the proportion of carbon from fossil fuels. Since 1980, delta13C has been on a consistent negative slope from -7.5 per mil to a -8.3 per mil in 2012 imputing human hands. Before the industrial revolution, it was -6.5 per mil. Put another way, our fingerprints are all over this crime scene.
The current EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has repeatedly expressed doubts about the issue. Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (2013) has enough detail to convince any rational skeptic.
For the Trump administration’s climate change deniers, one can only present measurable, undeniable facts. The latest Arctic Report Card released December 13, 2016, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does exactly that. The peer-reviewed report brings together the work of 61 scientists from 11 nations, and is key to tracking changes in the Arctic.
Even Indonesian farmers are responding to the effects of climate change. Surely the American public has the right to expect public officials to be better informed than farmers, although the latter naturally observe the problems first hand.
What is happening in the Arctic is frightening. The region has experienced record-setting surface temperatures for three years in a row accelerating the ice and snow melt. In the past quarter-century, it has lost two-thirds of the volume of sea ice as well as snow cover. The result is increased exposure of water to sunlight and greater absorption of heat, which in turn melts more ice and snow in a vicious cycle. Worth noting, of course, is that the Antarctic is not immune.
Antarctica is featured in the July 2017 issue of National Geographic. Dramatic satellite photos show how a 225-square-mile chunk of ice breaks off from the Pine Island ice shelf, which supports a massive glacier. A second rift is forming already.
There is a disturbing photograph of the Arctic showing a large green area in the middle. Ice cover is now so thin, sunlight is able to penetrate through, enabling plankton to grow in the water below.The effect of Arctic warming on weather in the mid-latitudes is another issue. As yet the scientific community is ambivalent because mathematical computer simulations have not proved significant, at least not on a global scale. Local effects are another matter: Loss of sea ice in the Barents and Kara Seas in the Arctic have been linked to cold, stormy conditions in Eastern Asia through both simulations and field observations. It can, of course, be a harbinger of future global effects when the Arctic ice melts further.
Whether all the evidence and the logic will gather much traction among the climate change deniers of the Trump administration is another matter. That is why the People’s Climate March protesters were marching. So were the scientists. Their discipline, resilient yet based on fact, theoretical yet based on empirical evidence, bringing benefits to society as a whole, forces them to.