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Climate Change Progress Proceeds in Spite of Trump

July 10, 2017

Trump did what so many were afraid of: he pulled out of the Paris climate change agreement. Surprisingly, this could be one of the best things that could have happened to the anti-greenhouse gas and climate change activist movements around the world.

Photo by Henry Burrows, CC

Under the previous administration, science-based analyses were helping define rules for greenhouse gas emissions rollbacks in many areas, including manufacturing, the automotive industry and the use of coal for power generation. The Executive Branch was not only aligned but well-informed. Under the current administration, science is being set aside, the phrase “climate change” is being abolished from public statements and the Environmental Protection Agency is being led by a bureaucrat with no interest in minimizing pollution, saving the planet or preventing climate-driven disasters.

The lunatics have indeed seized control of the federal nut-house, but they don't control everything.

With the previous kind of leadership, to a large ex­tent, it appears that much of the leadership of climate change actions – in the United States at least – was coming from the top down, meaning from the Presi­dency down. So, it was not always clear what would happen when Trump did what most expected him to do anyway, which was to play to his base, ignore sci­ence and please the big business people who put their profits ahead of public health. Now, only days after Trump announced that the U.S. government was pull­ing out of the Paris Agreement, big things have begun to happen.

On June 6, just days after Trump made that pledge, Hawaii made a very different one. It stepped up and became the first state in the country to defy Trump and make its own pledge to meet the temperature-change goals and related emissions-cut targets, all in direct defiance of Trump. It did this with two separate bills. One specifically set the targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts for the state. The second set up a statewide task force to help the state find ways to re­move carbon already present in the atmosphere and develop the means to improve soil health.

Hawaii, in part because it has some of the highest cost electrical power in the entire country and also because it has access to solar, wind and even tidal en­ergy options that many other states might not have in such abundance, has long been a leader in these areas. It even recently set up a complex program to help Hawaiian Electric Company work with something that will become the “new norm” in the age of renew­ables: developing the means to work with many differ­ent energy suppliers, each of which may have variable production capacity based on the wind, tides and sun. That plan is a revolutionary one that will likely set a standard for other states and even national govern­ments to learn from in the future.

In parallel, 1,200 leaders from across the United States – a group including governors, mayors and business executives – signed what will probably become one of the legendary landmarks of the United States’ actions to deal with climate change. What they prepared is a document entitled “We Are Still In” in which they rein­forced the seriousness of global warming as a danger first and then, second, reminded Americans and the world that moving to renewable energy may be one of the single-biggest economic job creators ever seen. They then made the strong commitment to do every­thing possible to meet the goals the previous admin­istration had set.

The Paris Agreement, signed by more than 190 na­tions, had agreed to hold global warming to a maxi­mum increase of 2°C, or 3.6°F, when compared to aver­age temperatures in pre-industrial times. Obama had backed that up by committing to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26%-28% by 2025, compared to 2005 emissions numbers. With a combination of Ex­ecutive Branch backing and market pressure because of the lowering costs of both wind and solar power compared to highly toxic coal-fired plants, plus ag­gressive new standards for building energy efficiency, appliance and auto efficiency and state and local gov­ernment regulations, emissions in America are already coming down in a fast track compared to 2005. They have already come down by around 12% compared to 2005, or 40% of Obama’s target for the country.

There is therefore good reason to be optimistic about what can and will be done, but there are other caution­ary pieces of information to be aware of in the world.

One of the most serious of these concerns India. In­dia is the third-highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, after China (#1) and the United States. A study published June 7, covering the state of climate change in that country, concluded that India is two and a half times more likely to suffer a major heat wave now than 50 years ago. Worse still – and a warning to those hanging too tightly onto exact temperature-rise predictions to guide their work – that 2.5X increase in heat wave danger took only a 0.5°C, or less than 1°F, rise in temperature to create that increased risk.

With this warning seemingly out of line with other pre­dictions that claim higher temperature increases are needed to raise the hazard level much, many might try to push off this new study as not being that reli­able. Yet just at the end of May, Asia is already reeling from countries like Pakistan’s temperature surge to 53.5°C (128.3°F) and New Delhi’s (India’s capital) rise to above 44°C (111°F).

The calculations in the study showed that, compared to 1960s numbers, India is not just far more likely to experience a heat-related mortality event. They also showed that the absolute number of heat wave days have increased by 25% in all of India since 1960. Southern and western India have been affected more than other areas, with 50% more heat and extreme heat lasting three or four days.

The effects are not just being felt in India, of course. In the United States on June 19, temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona, hit a high of 48.9°C (120°F). Those temperatures were so high that one airline, American Eagle, ended up having to cancel all flights using the Bombardier CRJ short-haul regional jet aircraft. The reason was that the 120°F number exceeded the max­imum operating temperature for the aircraft, which is 118°F.

It is not just planes that will be affected by this. Hu­man beings are being exposed to temperatures such as areas of the Middle East are already experiencing, at 65.5°C (150°F) and greater – temperatures so high that the body cannot sweat fast enough to cool itself down. Even being in the shade will not make much dif­ference.

So, it is more than good that the group of 1,200 lead­ers, the state of Hawaii and many more government and business groups across the country hopefully coming soon are finally standing up to the idiocy of our current President’s actions in pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Our high temperatures are on their way too, and, collectively, the nation needs to pull to­gether to do something about them.