The chang­ing world of cli­mate change

With its roll­back of cli­mate rules, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion taps the brakes on the un­set­tled ‘set­tled sci­ence’

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By An­thony J. Sadar and Su­san Z. For­ney An­thony J. Sadar, a cer­ti­fied con­sult­ing me­te­o­rol­o­gist, is the au­thor of “In Global Warm­ing We Trust: Too Big to Fail” (Stair­way Press, 2016). Su­san Z. For­ney, an en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions and com­pli­ance con­sulta

The cli­mate of cli­mate sci­ence is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a world of change. For decades, cli­mate sci­ence has been rolling along con­form­ing to the mantra that man is man­u­fac­tur­ing a planet in peril. Ap­par­ently to some, liv­ing com­fort­ably in the mod­ern world is send­ing us into ev­er­in­creas­ing cli­mate catas­tro­phe. But now the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, with its roll­back of cli­mate rules and re­view of the Clean Power Plan, is tap­ping the brakes on the run­away “set­tled sci­ence” of cli­mate change, and the sci­ence set­tlers don’t like it one bit. So, plan­ning is un­der­way by left­ist groups for a march on Washington in April by sci­en­tists and sci­ence sup­port­ers to save the planet from the cur­rent ruth­less rulers. To that end, pres­sure is be­ing ap­plied against sci­en­tists and sci­en­tific or­ga­ni­za­tions to force them out of the lab and into the streets to de­cry what com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers see as a war on sci­ence by a de­cid­edly po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Peer pres­sure from in­side and out will be tremen­dous as many see the Washington protest as vi­tal to sav­ing their jobs and per­haps their ca­reers. Af­ter all, aca­demic departments, sci­ence and pol­icy in­sti­tutes, and po­lit­i­cal fund­ing cam­paigns have been built on the foun­da­tion of “car­bon pol­lu­tion” equals cer­tain plan­e­tary death.

Be­fore en­ter­ing the fray, at­mo­spheric sci­en­tists and those who rep­re­sent the at­mo­spheric sci­ence field should ask them­selves to what ex­tent has pol­i­tics in­flu­enced past sci­en­tific prac­tice. For in­stance, have politi­cians sim­ply funded an ob­jec­tive search for truth with re­spect to hu­man im­pact on global cli­mate, or have they ac­tu­ally steered the pro­fes­sion to­ward cer­tain con­clu­sions?

Con­sider the roots of the is­sue. Putting aside the fact that fo­cus in the 1970s was on the com­ing of the next ice age, the global warm­ing frenzy be­gan in earnest in June 1988 when Sen. Ti­mothy Wirth or­ga­nized con­gres­sional hear­ings on cli­mate change. The event was pur­pose­fully staged on one of the hottest days of the year. The swel­ter­ing night be­fore the hear­ings, Mr. Wirth and his staff left the win­dows of the hear­ing room open all night to en­sure an un­com­fort­able meet­ing the next day.

The year 1988 also saw the es­tab­lish­ment of the United Na­tion’s In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change. The IPCC’s stated role is to as­sess the “risk of hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change, its po­ten­tial im­pacts and op­tions for adap­ta­tion and mit­i­ga­tion…” Typ­i­cally, sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tion is not di­rected to find a pre­or­dained con­clu­sion. There is a ten­dency rather to heed what Up­ton Sin­clair cau­tioned, “It is dif­fi­cult to get a man to un­der­stand some­thing when his salary de­pends upon his not un­der­stand­ing it.”

So, if pol­i­tics has al­ready clouded cli­mate sci­ence, is dis­si­pat­ing the po­lit­i­cal fog prac­ti­cally nec­es­sary?

Make no mis­take, past sci­en­tific re­search has al­ready con­firmed that the earth’s cli­mate does demon­stra­bly change with hu­man ac­tiv­ity. But, the im­por­tant ques­tions in­clude: To what ex­tent and with what re­sult?

The an­swer to “to what ex­tent” in­volves spa­tial and tem­po­ral in­flu­ences, while “with what re­sult” in­volves the sever­ity of an­thro­pogenic in­flu­ence.

For ex­am­ple, we know that hu­mans pro­duce a cli­mate im­pact called the “ur­ban heat is­land.” This heat is­land ef­fect is demon­strated by the sev­eral de­gree in­crease in city tem­per­a­tures in com­par­i­son with sur­round­ing coun­try­side tem­per­a­tures. Yet, the heat is­land ef­fect is on a lim­ited space and time scale that most peo­ple seem to find quite bear­able and prefer­able to more rus­tic sub­sis­tence.

Glob­ally, mea­sur­ing and find­ing nat­u­ral ver­sus hu­man cul­prits for chang­ing cli­mate con­di­tions is quite a bit more prob­lem­atic. This can be seen in the poor fore­cast­ing abil­ity of cli­mate mod­els to get even the rough trend of av­er­age global tem­per­a­ture change cor­rect for the past most re­cent decades.

Be­sides, much has been made about neg­a­tive cli­mate ef­fects, such as the small in­crease in sea level over the years. This mod­est in­crease does not nec­es­sar­ily por­tend per­ma­nent flood­ing or vast mi­gra­tions. And, warmer cli­mates tend to pro­duce more fa­vor­able cir­cum­stances for both hu­mans and the ecosys­tem over­all. The ten­dency to fo­cus only on bad con­di­tions re­sult­ing from vaunted mod­eled in­creases in global tem­per­a­tures does a dis­ser­vice to the breadth of sci­ence.

Our un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex cli­mate sys­tem will not be im­proved with more clam­or­ing for con­for­mance with the set­tled con­sen­sus view. Rather, as with all mul­ti­fac­eted en­deav­ors, new knowl­edge will emerge from a wide va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives, in­clud­ing from con­tri­bu­tions by qual­i­fied sci­en­tists who have been la­beled as “de­niers” by the past ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s prob­lems, at home and abroad, have been mush­room­ing in re­cent weeks faster than he can say “make Amer­ica great again.”

House Repub­li­can lead­ers are likely to take a two-week break with­out mak­ing any progress to­ward pass­ing a re­vised health-care bill — rais­ing doubts that Mr. Trump will be able to make good on his cam­paign prom­ise to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare any­time soon.

Af­ter weeks of re­ports about deep­en­ing divi­sions among his chief ad­vis­ers in the White House, Mr. Trump re­moved his chief strate­gist and po­lit­i­cal guru Steven Ban­non from the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in a dra­matic reshuf­fling that has given the NSC team’s top mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials in­creased roles in set­ting pol­icy.

The move el­e­vates the in­flu­ence of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster, an Army three-star gen­eral who was un­com­fort­able with any­one on the NSC who was prin­ci­pally known for his po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in de­ter­min­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies.

At the same time, the House and Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tees have broad­ened their dual in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Trump ad­vis­ers and other out­side as­so­ciates who’ve had se­cret con­tacts with Rus­sian op­er­a­tives close to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

The pan­els have been col­lect­ing in­tel­li­gence doc­u­ments and pre­par­ing for public hear­ings that are sure to re­veal de­tails of these con­tacts and whether the Rus­sians were promised that eco­nomic sanc­tions against Moscow would be re­duced by the new ad­min­is­tra­tion in an at­tempt by Mr. Trump to set a new re­la­tion­ship with the Krem­lin.

Mean­time, doubts are be­ing raised about whether the Trump econ­omy will show any sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the near term.

Min­utes of the Fed­eral Re­serve Board’s March pol­icy meet­ing, re­leased Wed­nes­day, showed that sev­eral board mem­bers be­lieved that fu­ture pol­icy changes, in­clud­ing across-the-board tax cuts, were un­likely to strengthen the econ­omy un­til some­time next year.

And sev­eral other Fed mem­bers said they feared that other parts of Mr. Trump’s agenda, such as im­mi­gra­tion, trade tar­iffs, and bor­der taxes, could slow down fu­ture eco­nomic growth.

The econ­omy grew by a dis­mal 2.1 per­cent in the fourth quar­ter of 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Com­merce De­part­ment’s Bureau of Eco­nomic Anal­y­sis.

The “gen­eral pic­ture of eco­nomic growth re­mains largely the same,” the BEA said this week in its re­port on the na­tion’s Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct.

In ad­di­tion to his call for lower tax rates on busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als to get the econ­omy mov­ing again, Trump also cam­paigned for rais­ing trade tar­iffs, point­ing to large U.S. trade deficits with other coun­tries.

But that ar­gu­ment sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened this week when the gov­ern­ment re­ported that the U.S.

Fed mem­bers said they feared that other parts of Trump’s agenda, such as im­mi­gra­tion, trade tar­iffs, and bor­der taxes, could slow down fu­ture eco­nomic growth.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY LINAS GARSYS

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