The Compelling Evidence of Global Warming

Pulp mills at Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The meteor of Al Gore

Al Gore was very ambitious. Following on the footsteps of his father, he entered politics and served as a Congressman and Senator from Tennessee. At the same time, he grasped the importance of climate change and he wrote a book about the political implications of rising global temperature.

Gore knew Bill Clinton, a shrewd politician from Arkansas. Together, the two young southern politicians, formed an alliance and captured the White House: Al Gore served as the vice president of the Clinton administration, 1993-2001.

Gore facilitated the establishment of the country’s collecting data on climate change, in effect, activating the Global Change Research Act of 1990. This law mandated, first, the reporting of  climate change in the United States and the world and, second, the study of the potential and real implications and effects of climate change.

However, the philosopher-king of climate change, Al Gore, was so well guarded in the eight years of White House tenure, he might as well not have existed at all. The United States kept its primacy as number one in global pollution and emission of greenhouse warming gases.

Then Gore ran for president in the fateful 2001 election, but the Supreme Court elected George W. Bush: a warmonger and destroyer of the environment. Gore disappeared from public view. He became an investment banker and a critic of the continuing use of fossil fuels.

International war and domestic wars

After eight years of war “on terror” in the Middle East and war on public health and the natural world by Bush, Americans elected the first black American president, Barack Obama. However, Obama inherited a corrupt and collapsing Wall Street and fear of a global financial meltdown. He had the option of cleaning up Wall Street banking and injecting ethical standards in the US economy. Instead, he chose bailing out the very Wall Street bankers who nearly wrecked the economy of America and the world. The result was another calamitous administration, doing very little to put a break on global warming.

The successor to Obama was Donald Trump, an open enemy of the environment and public health. In fact, Trump is so shameless and obedient servant of polluters and big business, he and his administration deny global warming.

The consequences of this chronic political failure of Americans electing responsible ethical adults for the White House and Congress are approaching catastrophe.

The state of climate change

Volume II of The National Climate Assessment of November 2018 reveals lots of truths. The report admits we and the rest of the world are in deep trouble:

“Observations collected around the world provide significant, clear, and compelling evidence that global average temperature is much higher, and is rising more rapidly, than anything modern civilization has experienced, with widespread and growing impacts. The warming trend observed over the past century can only be explained by the effects that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, have had on the climate.

“High temperature extremes and heavy precipitation events are increasing. Glaciers and snow cover are shrinking, and sea ice is retreating. Seas are warming, rising, and becoming more acidic, and marine species are moving to new locations toward cooler waters. Flooding is becoming more frequent along the U.S. coastline. Growing seasons are lengthening, and wildfires are increasing. These and many other changes are clear signs of a warming world.

“In the absence of more significant global mitigation efforts, climate change is projected to impose substantial damages on the U.S. economy, human health, and the environment.”

This summary suffices to dismiss Trump’s climate illiteracy. The Earth is heating up, dangerously. The National Climate Assessment presents “significant, clear, and compelling evidence” showing an America and world upside down. We are living global warming.

Air pollution

For example, air pollution is hazardous in the United States. According to the National Climate Assessment report:

“More than 100 million people in the United States live in communities where air pollution exceeds health-based air quality standards… climate change will worsen existing air pollution levels. This worsened air pollution would increase the incidence of adverse respiratory and cardiovascular health effects, including premature death. Increased air pollution would also have other environmental consequences, including reduced visibility and damage to agricultural crops and forests.”

As I said, the Obama administration did not distinguished itself, save for reviving the Wall Street thieves. But, at least, it made an effort to reduce the amounts of greenhouse warming gases from cars, trucks and power plants.

EPA partnered with states, cities, car and electricity producers, mandating cuts in pollution. Electricity factories were about to reduce carbon emissions equivalent to the carbon pollution of 160,000,000 cars — representing 70 percent of cars in the US. This negotiated settlement came under the Clean Power Plan of the Clean Air Act. It was finalized in 2015.

Yet, the Trump administration replaced this modest measure of reducing our national air pollution. Trump preferred full carbon pollution, the more the better. That way he would try bamboozling his followers that his administration created more jobs in hospitals and morgues and doctors’ offices “taking care” of sick and dying people.

This audacious but typical attack by the Trump administration on public health and the health of the planet outraged Massachusetts Attorney  General Maura Healey. On November 1, 2018, she said:

“Every word of this [Trump administration] plan was written by the coal industry lobbyists to allow their companies to continue to poison our air and our climate. Replacing the Clean Power Plan will cause tens of thousands of asthma attacks, missed school, and lost work days, and raise American rates of heart and respiratory disease. I will never back down while the Trump Administration threatens the health of our children, the quality of our air, or the clean energy jobs of Massachusetts.”

About a month later, she and several other state attorneys general and local government attorneys wrote to the acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, reminding him of the potent message of the National Climate Assessment for “prompt, meaningful action by the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

For this reason, they urged Wheeler to scrap his rollbacks on vehicle emissions and the carbon pollution of the electricity factories. The car rollback, they said, would result in increased emissions equivalent to 540 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – just for model years 2022-2025. And the rollback of the Clean Power Plan would dump into the atmosphere an additional 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions – in 2030. Taken together, the state attorneys stressed, the rollbacks would be equivalent to the annual emissions of a 127 million gasoline-powered cars in the streets and highways of America.

However, an administration that claims there’s no global warming is an administration of polluters. Wheeler ignored the attorneys’ appeal. They plan to sue him.

Wake up, America!

This is another way of saying it is a matter of  life and death that the Democrats take back the White House and the Senate. Their first priority should then be to move the country as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels.

According to the National Climate Assessment,  the “energy sector” is responsible for the largest amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in America. The energy sector includes “energy production, conversion, and use.” This conventional fossil fuel energy sector pumps into the atmosphere 84 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. It also accounts for 80 percent of nitrogen oxide reaching the air.

This is a lion share of pollution threatening this country and the world. Replacing this Sword of Damocles with non-polluting solar and wind energy will give us breathing space for coming to terms with our existential crisis.

We have barely began. The fossil fuel industry continues its deception: sponsoring academic and public relations studies throwing doubt on the science of global warming; funding politicians and undermining international and domestic efforts for climate treaties and building solar and wind alternative energy. It is largely responsible for irresponsible state policies — worldwide. In 2019, the largest and richest countries are still lavishly subsidizing fossil fuels, especially coal.

Stopping this unnecessary and dangerous American addiction to fossil fuels is of the greatest importance. In fact, nothing is higher than that.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.