There is little doubt that Donald Trump’s election poses great danger to global warming and the environment. At present we only have his campaign rhetoric to worry about. However, because he thinks climate change is a scientific hoax, and the environment is already overprotected we can contemplate the appointment of science and environment advisors coming from the political ‘far right’ and an escalation of bad policy. Withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and pushing ahead with the ‘Dakota Access Pipeline’ are two controversial moves his administration might promote.
But really, even without adequate cooperation from the USA, the plight of the planet is already dire. It is well worth taking stock of what most conservative science based findings about the warming of the atmosphere already are:
On March 08, 2016 the CO2 atmospheric concentration measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii, was 403.50 ppm. This was reported as ‘the largest annual leap in 56 years’ (Alex Pashley, Climate Home at climatechangenews.com, 10/03/2016). Mauna Loa’s measurements of CO2 concentrations vary from month to month and may even decrease (e.g. in October this year the concentration was 401.57 ppm). Nonetheless, over time all the trends are upwards. If that is not sobering enough, note that CO2 may be the dominant GHG but the future effects of melting methane sinks may become more considerable.
The ‘Keeling curve’ (based on a record of ice core temperatures before 1958 and Mauna Loa measurements after then) clearly shows an accelerating trend in recently measured atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Even if the rate of increase of concentrations had stabilised over the last couple of years (as widely reported, but any idea that we have reached a ‘turning point’ should be viewed sceptically) there are still increasing concentrations of C02 in the atmosphere, as noted above.
At these current rates of increase a 2C increase in global temperatures may occur as early as 2034 (See the 2013 Potsdam Institute Report commissioned by the World Bank, 4°Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resiliance).
The science based findings of that report show that even if the current rate of ‘decarbonisation of the atmosphere’ (and it should be noted that in the light of the Keeling curve referred to above this seems only an interim claim for the good intentions of major emitters) is doubled to 1.4% per year, the likely temperature increase by 2100 will be 4C.
Global surface temperatures are rising commensurately. From data based on Hansen, Ruedy, Sato and Lo’s 2010 chart and updated by Dr Makiko Sato, 2015) registered a +1.2C anomaly (as reported on CO2.earth, accessed 17 Nov. 2016). ‘Globally averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 degrees Celsius). Only once before, in 1998, has the new record been greater than the old record by this much.’ (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies quoted on the website CO2.earth)
We can stop there with these five summary points because most else pales into insignificance. The scientific data are unequivocal and will have awesomely bad consequences. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation has recently said, ‘time is not on our side’ (reported by Ed King in ‘Earth has 30 years before carbon budget is blown’, Climate Home, at climatechangenews.com, 21/09/2014).
One should worry about the effect of Trump on all the hard won gains that climate change activists and environmentalists have made, but until the real culprits are acknowledged increased carbon budgets and sustainable economics will not arrive in time to preserve the Earth at less than 2C extra. Economic growth in conjunction with overconsumption and overpopulation are still the main drivers of climate change. We should despair, but not totally since it is never too late to address the issues of over-population, overconsumption and pollution of all kinds. Humanity everywhere must learn to live within the means of a finite planet.