It’s a special moment.
On the one hand there’s Trump –who has just pulled the US out of the Paris climate change agreement; alone in the world now that Nicaragua and even Syria have signed up to it.
And then there‘s the US scientific community—one of the best in the world, who have just published a state-of-the-art analysis on the state of the global climate.
Called the Climate Science Special Report and available here, even in the carefully calibrated writing preferred by scientists, the report is hard-hitting stuff.
It knocks the socks off EPA director Scott Pruitt—a foolish fool of a lawyer who thinks climate change is a reality show and that environmental policy can be decided by a television vote.
It should embarrass Rex Tillerson—a first-class petroleum engineer who clearly knows that climate change is for real—it’s just that he can’t come out and say that it’s true: ‘at this point in time’.
And it should totally shame Donald Trump. Except that Trump will entirely ignore the report and pass questions over to Scott Pruitt—the EPA chief with absolutely no understanding of climate science. Which is of course why he was chosen to head up the EPA.
So exactly what does the report say?
It’s two sentences of text that are going to be repeated a thousand times.
Here they are:
“This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”
The boldface type is in the original text.
Note that the report ‘concludes’. It doesn’t assert, it doesn’t ‘find’, it doesn’t propose. It’s finished with that stuff. This is a conclusion signed off on by 50 of the top US climate change scientists. This means that they agree on the wording–and what the wording means.
You can’t make it any clearer than that. And just to make sure that you understand that global warming isn’t the only change that’s happening, the report continues:
“In addition to warming, many other aspects of global climate are changing, primarily in response to human activities. Thousands of studies conducted by researchers around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and ocean temperatures; melting glaciers; diminishing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea levels; ocean acidification; and increasing atmospheric water vapor.”
Again, the emphasis is in the original.
These statements, which come at the beginning of the report, are intended to make it emphatically clear that there is absolutely no room for doubt.
Unless, of course, you work at the US Environmental Protection Agency
For Scott Pruitt and Lamar Smith (the chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee which has oversight of the EPA), science is just something that maybe you believe in. Or maybe you don’t. Like Creationism or Scientology; or maybe Elvis isn’t dead after all.
Scott Pruitt and Lamar Smith just believe in something else. That’s fair isn’t it? And they both have law degrees.
Seriously, who needs to know anything about science when you have a law degree in America?
Meanwhile, Trump’s hand-picked team is at the COP23 to tout the advantages of ‘clean’ coal and natural gas. This is the Trump agenda. This is why the US pulled out of COP23 and dismantled the Clean Power Plan.
The argument being pushed is that fossil fuels are going to be ‘part of the mix’ for several decades and so it makes sense for dirty conventional coal power stations to be replaced with ‘clean’ coal or natural gas. All from the US naturally.
First off, fossil fuels are always going to be part of the mix if you continue to promote them–and subsidize them. And there’s no evidence at all that fossil fuel energy is necessarily an essential part of future electricity supply.
Secondly, there is no such thing as clean coal. You can wash it, polish it, and scrub stack gases to death and you will still have carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates, and all the trace elements like mercury getting to the atmosphere. The combustion of fossil fuels pollutes the air. You can’t get around basic chemistry. Switching to natural gas produces less pollution–but you will still have CO2 emissions, and when you look at the complete fuel cycle from fracking on downstream, the emissions of methane, a strong greenhouse gas, leaking into the atmosphere are not insignificant.
And nuclear? In principle, small-scale, modular, advanced technology nuclear units are an attractive concept. Zero carbon? Yep, just what we need. But that’s just in principle.
In practice, the technology comes with numerous, time-consuming, and expensive regulatory requirements and constraints. It takes years to bring a reactor on-line, even a small one, and huge overruns on capital costs are the norm not the exception. And if you look at the complete fuel cycle: uranium mining is an ecological disaster.
Why go for nuclear when there other zero carbon options that carry none of the risks associated with nuclear technology?
Wind and solar photovoltaics continue to dominate new electrical power supply globally–as their costs decline, and as the technology becomes more reliable at larger scale. Energy storage, the key to the fully global transition to renewable energy and the management of intermittent sources, is rapidly developing at utility-scale.
A massive and historic transition to renewable energy is underway.
In the US, California and New York will lead. But just imagine how much faster this global transition would take place if the US was led by people who had the courage to tell the truth–instead of the desire to peddle false facts, fake news, and mickey-mouse pseudoscience.