July 2019 was the hottest month on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA records go back to 1880.
July temperatures exceeded the average for the 20th century by 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit.
But President Donald Trump has long been a global warming denier. On Nov. 6, 2012, he tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
On June 1, 2017, he announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.
President Trump’s disdain for global warming can be jaw-dropping. When his administration, with input from 13 federal agencies and more than 300 scientists, produced a study warning of the dangers of climate change, including economic and health threats, he rejected it. On Nov. 26, 2018, he told inquiring reporters, “I don’t believe it.”
In a similar vein, on Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh told radio listeners that “solar and wind are left-wing activist creations that are all part of the climate change hoax that are designed to fool young people into thinking they’re actually doing something to make their lives meaningful. There’s no such thing as renewable energy, other than manure.”
Even more disturbing is the thought that global warming deniers might consider global warming a good thing. President Trump appears to view climate change as an opportunity.
A story in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 15 said he “expressed interest” in purchasing Greenland from Denmark. Greenland is a valuable piece of real estate, a veritable treasure trove of natural resources, including rare-earth elements, diamonds, gold, zinc and uranium, and the more plebeian iron ore, lead and oil.
As the Earth warms and the ice melts from Greenland, more and more of these rich resources will be exposed for the taking.
On Monday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen shot down Trump’s purchase-of-Greenland idea, calling it “absurd,” and Trump tweeted an image of a HUGE Trump Tower in Greenland under this heading, “I promise not to do this to Greenland!”
On Tuesday, Trump canceled a meeting with Frederiksen, showing his contempt for the Dane’s diss of the purchase idea.
But, out of fairness, maybe the idea of purchasing Greenland didn’t seem that far-fetched to Trump. The British news outlet The Guardian pointed out that Democratic President Harry Truman attempted to buy Greenland in 1946 for $100 million, but Denmark said no.
However, in 1917, Denmark said yes to the United States’ purchase of the Danish West Indies, now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands. This begs the question of what Trump might want to rename Greenland, but out of respect for my editor, I will not comment further.
On Monday, 181 executives who are members of the Business Roundtable, including leaders of Apple, Bank of America, General Motors, JP Morgan Chase, Pepsi and Walmart, released a new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.”
Among other things, this statement says that companies need to strive to protect the environment, not just benefit shareholders. The question is how much they’ll turn policy discussions into action.
Action is necessary. Here’s some of the evidence:
In Iceland, Okjökull — “Ok glacier” — died. Scientists deemed it dead in 2014 after it lost so much weight that it could no longer flow. It sat motionless, shrinking, until now it’s gone.
Geologist Oddur Sigursson first made the call that the “Ok glacier” was not OK but indeed deceased. On ground once covered by the glacier, he and other scientists will soon place a plaque bearing an ominous message: “Ok is the first Islandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier.
In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”
In spring 2019, atmospheric carbon dioxide exceeded 415 parts per million. According to scientists studying carbon dioxide levels, Earth has not seen this level of carbon dioxide since the Pliocene Epoch some 3 million years ago.
Today, many animals are suffering from the effects of climate change. The plight of polar bears has been widely publicized. The critters are being robbed of their ice floes, and more and more they are being left either to pace barren coasts or to paddle around in the sea and starve. The World Wildlife Federation, National Geographic Society and Polar Bears International are warning of the dangers to polar bears.
For humans, a major fear is that seas will rise, inundating coastal regions and putting us out to sea. The Jan. 24, 2019, edition of National Geographic Magazine says climate change will drive “the migration of up to 200 million people worldwide by 2050.”
Bangladesh, currently home to 165 million people living on its low-lying land, will be among nations hit hard by climate change and resulting climate migration.
In April 2017, environmentalists testified at a Senate hearing on climate change that rising water will damage President Trump’s Florida retreat, Mar-a-Lago.
If it’s not too much water, the problem may be not enough water. In many countries, such as the Sudan, agricultural lands are becoming deserts in the wake of climate change.
Increasing temperatures, coupled with dry vegetation, have also enabled devastating fires, such as the Camp Fire wildfire in late 2018 that obliterated Paradise, California. This inferno killed 86 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.
Currently, Amazon wildfires can even be seen from space.
Ironically, global warning can create the opposite effect, namely, devastatingly cold temperatures. As more and more ice melts, the Atlantic becomes less salty. Because of this, the current flowing north from the Equator, the Gulf Stream, has weakened. If this churning engine stops, cold temperatures could transform the British Isles into Bitter Isles.
Will life as we know it cease? Will we some day have a “Water World” similar to the 1995 Kevin Costner movie about bleak life on planet Earth after melting polar ice caps submerge most of the land?
Fear of annihilation by water is perhaps reminiscent of fear of thermonuclear annihilation displayed in a statement by Robert H. Warren, a federal trial judge. In 1979, he heard United States v. Progressive Inc.
The controversy started in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin. A monthly magazine, The Progressive, was set to publish an article titled, “The H-Bomb Secret: How We Got It, Why We’re Telling It.” The judge initially granted an injunction against the article’s publication. Later, the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper twice published more explicit articles, so the injunction became moot. But the judge’s language is still worth considering.
Judge Warren thought the article might help a “medium-size nation” develop an H-bomb. He said, “A mistake in ruling against The Progressive ... will curtail defendant’s First Amendment rights in a drastic and substantial fashion.” But he continued, saying, “A mistake in ruling against the United States could pave the way for thermonuclear annihilation for us all. In that event, our right to life is extinguished and the right to publish becomes moot.”
If we destroy planet Earth as a part of our generational injustice, then the right to speak, to worship as we please, to petition government, to carry a gun or even to subsist will be moot.
We’ll be like the fool who killed the golden goose to get the golden eggs in Aesop’s fable. But in this case, we will have killed the Blue Planet to exploit her resources ... and collectively we will have been fools.
If global warming causes our demise, the end will be as envisioned by poet T.S. Eliot in “The Hollow Men”: “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Sandy Davidson, Ph.D., J.D., teaches communications law at the MU School of Journalism. She is a curators’ distinguished teaching professor and the attorney for the Columbia Missourian.