…well, we had a run, anyway.
Humanity’s mission for the next four years is clear: try to survive all of Donald Trump’s other policies so that we can eventually be killed by his climate policy. Which may not take very long, considering how bad things have already gotten:
An ice sheet in West Antarctica is breaking from the inside out.
The significant new findings published yesterday in Geophysical Research Letters show that the ocean is melting the interior of the Pine Island Glacier, which is about the size of Texas. The crack seems to be accelerating, said Ian Howat, associate professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University and the study’s lead author. The findings are the first confirmation of something glaciologists have long suspected was happening, he said.
“It’s showing a new weakness in the ice shelf, and it’s showing the weakness may be extending far up the glacier,” he said. “That’s the alarming thing from our standpoint.”
Higher ocean temperatures are causing the ice to shrink at an accelerating rate, and it’s eroding the ice fringing the continent. That, in turn, opens the ice sheet to further contact with warmer ocean water and increases the amount of ice running into the ocean, the researchers found.
“More importantly, it gives us a mechanism for even faster retreat in the future. Before, we used to have a slow retreat at the edges of the ice shelf,” Howat said. “The ocean had to nibble away at it on the edges. This allows the ice shelf to break apart way further inland from the inside out.”
Trump, who famously says climate change is a “Chinese hoax” (which you can call a lie provided you think Donald Trump is smart enough to actually know it’s not true), wants to dismantle climate regulations, big league. The head of his environmental transition team is Myron Ebell, a guy so far behind the science on environmental issues that he rejects the idea that pesticides might be a health risk. Environmental groups will do what they can to oppose Trump’s efforts, and factors outside Trump’s control may also help blunt Trump’s desire to wreck the planet, but even if they miraculously kept him at par with what the Obama administration did, the fact of the matter is, as Ryan Cooper writes, we need to be doing far more than we’re already doing on climate change–even staying put over the next four or eight years will be plenty bad:
This is at a time when, in order to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (itself a highly damaging level of warming), world emissions in developed nations ought to be ratcheting down by something like 10 percent per year. Four or eight years of a climate denier president almost could not come at a worse time. It means that, especially if President Trump screws up the delicate international politics, we are probably going to sail past 2 degrees, and into the territory where self-reinforcing climate feedbacks — decreasing albedo, release of frozen methane, deforestation, and so on — become a live possibility. In that case, warming could sail up to 4-6 degrees Celsius or even higher no matter what happens to emissions.
This would be an incomprehensible disaster. Sea levels could rise by 6 feet or more by 2100, accelerating fast after that; crop yields would be savaged; flooding and drought would be commonplace; murderous heatwaves would become the new normal; and many if not most animal species would be driven to extinction. It would quite literally threaten the existence of the United States as an organized community (and, needless to say, kill billions in poorer nations). At that point psychotically risky geoengineering schemes — the most realistic of which wouldn’t even prevent some of the worst parts of climate change — would be the only option.
I tend not to do much climate writing around here, but I probably should. For a blog mostly devoted to the ways human beings have been (or might soon be) trying to kill one another, nothing short of a highly unlikely massive nuclear exchange is likely to kill as many people as climate change, and no other threat to humanity is as unstoppable once it really gets started (which may already have happened). And this isn’t just a matter of life and death, but of social and economic justice; most of the people climate change doesn’t kill will be left in substantially more precarious conditions because of its effects, and most of those people are already struggling in the mightily unequal global society we’ve created for ourselves. Donald Trump won’t have to really feel the pain of climate change. People fleeing famine in Africa, climate-induced civil wars in the Middle East, and sinking islands in the Pacific–many of the same people Trump wants to bar from coming to the US–will.