It was a surreal conversation, sitting in a sauna at the athletic club listening to an emboldened Trump supporter offering the junk science view of climate change. Nothing could sway him. He was in full denial, tethered to an alternative theory global warming was caused by the changing tilt of the earth’s axis. The periodic cycle of the earth’s wobble was normal, therefore humans had nothing to do with climate change.
I checked the science. The earth does have a wobble cycle during which rotational tilt changes can significantly affect climate. But the problem with this theory is the cycle occurs over a long period of 40,000 years and, scientists will tell you, we are in the part of the cycle where the earth should be getting cooler, not hotter.
The perspiring Trumpian’s theory was just another of the many alternative explanations for global warming that haven’t held up under scientific scrutiny.
I thought of this conversation as we approached the April 22th Earth Day and, three days before, the Senate, in a party line vote, had narrowly confirmed an Oklahoma Congressman, Jim Bridenstine, to head NASA, which operates satellites critical to researching and tracking climate change.
Based on its long-term records, the NASA website informs us that carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years; that the global temperature has risen 1.8 degrees since record keeping began in 1880 and 17 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2001; that Arctic summer ice is decreasing at a rate of 13.2% per decade and in 2012 it shrank to the lowest extent on record; that sea level rise is caused by global warming and the global average has risen nearly seven inches in the past 100 years and since 1993 it has risen an average 3.2 millimeters per year.
Along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA is a prime collector and disseminator of information that confirms human induced global warming and underpins critical research on its effects and potential mitigation efforts. So, who heads them, and what they do about gathering, presenting and revealing their climate data, is critical.
We already have climate science deniers running the EPA, Department of Energy and Interior Department. They’ve put the fossil fuel industry in control, promoting more fossil fuel use through reduction of safety and environmental protections and purposely suppressing, hiding or obscuring scientific data and the scientists behind that data.
We don’t need the same mentality heading NASA or NOAA.
Bridenstine won’t go as far as Trump or Scott Pruitt at the EPA in denying the science, but he’s sneaky with his language, calling for NASA to research “extreme weather” rather than climate change. During confirmation hearings he admitted human activity “absolutely” contributes to climate change, but not that it was the primary cause.
The lone holdout recognizing and willing to publicly confirm the scientific consensus is Trump’s nominee to head NOAA, Barry Lee Myers, CEO of the private weather forecasting service AccuWeather.
Contention over his nomination is based on potential conflicts of interest, not climate change. In confirmation hearings he expressed agreement with the conclusions of the 4th National Climate Assessment prepared by 13 federal agencies.
It’s a sobering, alarming report summarizing climate research and projected climate changes and impacts if tends continue. According to the assessment, “based on extensive evidence” it is “extremely likely” [95-100%] that human influence has been the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century and “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of observational evidence.”
Myers said, he had no reason to disagree with that assessment. It happens that he has no reason to because there’s nothing else on which those doubting human induced climate can hang their hats.
If Myers is confirmed, let’s hope he and Bridenstine don’t change the research mission of their agencies the way other Trump appointees have changed the mission of theirs.