It is now clear that President Donald Trump and the Republican majority in Congress are intent on destroying all controls on greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are primarily the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels and producing cement; however, a significant amount of the emissions come from methane. The leakage of natural gas, which is 97 percent methane, is a major contributor to this.
The new head of EPA, Scott Pruitt, recently said, “I would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a major contributor to the global warming that we see.” Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon-Mobil and now Secretary of State, has said he believes climate change is occurring, but refuses to say that humans are contributing to it. Of course, almost 100 percent of the congressional Republicans say that climate change is happening. Then they say that the climate has always changed, and humans have very little to do with it.
That is the wrong question to ask. People should be asked whether global warming is happening and if humans are the major reason for it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), composed of thousands of the world’s best climate scientists, have issued reports every five to six years since 1990 stating that global warming is occurring and the burning of fossil fuels is primarily responsible for it.
The 2013 IPCC report said that it is 95 percent certain that human activity is responsible for global warming. Every national scientific society in the world agrees with this report. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has been asked several times since by Congress and various presidents to assess the IPCC reports. Each time they have reported that global warming is occurring and human activity is primarily responsible for it.
The increase in surface temperature of the earth caused by global warming is changing the climate of the earth. Straight forward thermodynamics shows that increased droughts, heat waves, and extreme weather events are linked to global warming. It is curious that so many people can deny this science while using it to enjoy electricity in their homes, the mobility of modern transportation, and the conveniences of modern communication.
For anyone paying attention it is clear that these climate changes have been occurring since 1980. They have also been predicted by climate models. The models also predict that, unless we can restrict future warming to 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, the world will experience changes in the climate that humans have not experienced since our civilization began 10,000 years ago. (The 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit change by the end of the century corresponds to the two degrees Celcius change from 1780 to 2100 agreed to at the Paris Conference on Climate Change.)
Since the United States is second largest emitter of carbon dioxide (slightly behind China) and emits much more carbon dioxide per person than China, we should be taking a leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, with Trump as president and the Republicans in control of Congress, we are rapidly destroying the Paris agreement. Why should other countries follow the Paris agreement when we have pulled out and are increasing emissions?
The only upside to this is that nature does not pay any attention to the pronouncements of politicians. The laws of physics, chemistry, and biology will continue to operate no matter what laws are passed or executive orders issued. In the next four years, changes in climate may be so clear that only fools will deny they are occurring. Then there is a chance to get some national leadership that will do something about global warming and climate change.
Gary Bent, Ph.D, is a retired University of Connecticut physicist.