Physics Doesn’t Care About Politics or Whether Anyone Believes in Science
By Jim Miller
A little less than two weeks before the election, the Guardian was one of the only media outlets to note the release of a devastating report by the Living Planet Index that outlines how, “The number of wild animals living on Earth is set to fall by two-thirds by 2020, according to a new report, part of a mass extinction that is destroying the natural world upon which humanity depends.”
One might think that such stark news would have trickled into the Presidential race, but, given the debased nature of the contest and the pathetic state of the national corporate media, it was nowhere to be seen in the slime fest that was the 2016 election. Nonetheless, this is very serious business as the Guardian piece reports:
The collapse of wildlife is, with climate change, the most striking sign of the Anthropocene, a proposed new geological era in which humans dominate the planet. “We are no longer a small world on a big planet. We are now a big world on a small planet, where we have reached a saturation point,” said Prof Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, in a foreword for the report.
Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF, said: “The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it. Life supports life itself and we are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.”
Indeed, it was not just this little bit of news that flew under the mainstream media’s radar screen during the election as just a few weeks before the Living Planet Index report, former NASA scientist James Hanson gave yet another dire climate warning when he observed in early October that:
“There’s a misconception that we’ve begun to address the climate problem,” Hansen told reporters on a press call Monday. “The misapprehension is based on the Paris climate summit where all the government leaders clapped each other on the back as if some great progress has been made, but you look at the science and it doesn’t compute. We are not doing what is needed.”
Hanson’s severe proclamation was echoed in a pithy Scientific American story on November 9th entitled “Physics Doesn’t Care Who Was Elected President” that reported “eight worrisome climate patterns” now well underway: carbon dioxide has passed the 400 parts per million milestone permanently; 2016 is on track to be the hottest year ever; extreme weather events have become more likely; sea level rise is making flooding more common; arctic ice is rapidly disappearing; the Antarctic ice sheet is becoming unstable; oceans have reached warming records that is killing coral; and ocean acidification is happening now.
In the face of this, an American electorate, only 27% of whom believe that human behavior is mostly responsible for climate change, elected Donald Trump who wants to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and has chosen a climate change denier, Myron Ebell, to head the Environmental Protection Agency transition.
Thus, the center of American power is now full of people just like your drunken relative all jacked up on Fox News as he argues with you at the Thanksgiving table—they aren’t just entitled to their opinions they have their own set of facts to go with them.
The result of this is that the many big things that need to be done very soon to address the ill-effects of climate change and environmental degradation will not happen. Instead, we have just assured ourselves that the negative trends which threaten our children’s future and the richness of biodiversity on earth will be accelerated. In sum, we’ve just guaranteed the outcome that much more will be lost, the only question is how much damage will be done as we fight one ridiculous rear guard action after another.
We can fight back at the local level, and we should, but there is no getting around the fact that the leadership of the most powerful country in the world will be tenaciously working against us. We’ll be struggling to not move backward at the very moment we need to be pressing forward much more aggressively. And time is not on our side.
This is as bad as it gets.
If you are looking for hope, Bernie Sanders is peddling some with his plan to put the question of climate change at the heart of the resistance to Trump. Last week, the Los Angeles Times observed that:
Democrats regularly call climate change an existential crisis, yet they hardly discussed it in the general election. Sanders suggested that is a mistake. Now the White House will be inhabited by a president who has labeled climate change a hoax and who wants to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have got to focus much more attention on this,” Sanders said. “The future of this planet is at stake. We have got to bring together people to demand Mr. Trump listen to the scientists.”
Sanders is right. Whatever the political calculations involved, forcing this issue of climate change into the center of the political arena is a moral imperative. But will anyone follow his lead? It’s an open question–and that should make you very angry.
As Noam Chomsky put it, reflecting on how Trump’s electoral college coronation occurred on the same day that the World Meteorological Organization reported that the past five years were the hottest on record, “It is hard to find words to capture the fact that humans are facing the most important question in their history—whether organized human life will survive in anything like the form we know—and are answering it by accelerating the race to disaster.”
This is not a situation that should be normalized. Everything is on the line and we need to act like it. Really.