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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

The Centennial Celebration of the Paris Agreement Arrives 99 Years Early

Early in 2016, shortly after the United Nations-sponsored meeting that culminated in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, this writer posted a fable characterizing a fictional centennial commemoration of the 2015 Agreement in a scenario in which use of fossil fuels had continued unabated during that 100-year interval.  The fable is reproduced below:

The Centennial Commemoration of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

A Fable

It was December 2115, the hundredth anniversary of the agreement to a climate treaty reached among all the members of the United Nations, in Paris.  The members of the Petrex extended family gathered to mark the occasion.  By that time, three to four generations after the event, the clan had grown considerably, and had established for itself a fully self-sufficient environment inside its terradome.  For the occasion the space was opulently fitted out with an artificial lake in which were moored several model oil rigs.  The pipe linking the rigs to shore ended in an internally illuminated fountain gurgling champagne.  Scattered about the artificially-turfed land areas were several working model oil wells erected in mud fields of black caviar, pumping dark chocolate and coffee liqueurs, and other reminders of the black gold that had started the Petrex fortune, more than one hundred years earlier.

Back then, the clan founder, Malvolio Petrex, chairman and chief executive officer of the largest oil company at the time, had come to realize the inconsistencies of his, and his company’s, position.  They were, at one and the same time, using all their financial power and political influence to perpetuate, indeed to expand, the use of the oil they extracted from the ground, while correctly realizing that their exploitative activities were worsening the global warming already well under way.  After all, the Paris agreement itself was reached in response to expert scientific findings, reported for at least the preceding twenty years, that burning oil and other fossil fuels, such as those his company and others were pulling from the ground, added irreversibly to the atmospheric burden of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Malvolio Petrex knew that global warming was going to get much worse in the coming years, because his company and others were continuing to produce fossil fuels at ever-increasing rates of growth, year after year.  After all, more and more energy was needed to fuel the demands of economies all over the world, being used to expand their economies and raise the poorest peoples of the world out of poverty. 

He wasn’t too worried about his own welfare, though.  Thanks to his immeasurable wealth, he already had peppered several secure estates around the world, in various climatic and ecological settings.  But as any other dynastic figure that we may encounter throughout history, he was concerned about the wellbeing of his progeny.  He knew that the travesties his business activities were creating would worsen after he was gone, impacting the lives and indeed the safety of his scions.  He understood that worsening warming would lead to economic and political unrest among the impoverished and others less well off than he because they would be suffering the harmful effects of warming: flooding in some regions; droughts, wildfires and famine in others; and inexorable sea level rise driving millions around the world from their traditional homes and livelihoods.

And so he embarked on a program to develop self-contained environments for himself and his family.  The environments would insulate his family from the unpleasantness of dealing with the effects of climate change by keeping the open atmosphere out, and the family’s living quarters and areas for amusing themselves in.  The first models were installed on the grounds of his existing estates, and were relatively modest. 

Now, one hundred years later, after many rounds of development and improvement, this Petrex estate was enveloped in its own protective terradome.  It was a large, fully enclosed environment covering almost one square mile, incorporating the estate’s mansion, its recreational areas, and fields producing much of its food needs.  The terradome insulated the estate from the worst “weird” climate and weather events brought on by the extreme warming that the world had attained by then, as well as keeping a portion of the sun’s warming light from penetrating to the land within it.  The Petrex family had practically no need to travel outside the terradome; it was almost entirely self-sufficient.

As a result, they were insulated as well from the harms and damages induced by the warmer climate that most of the peoples of the world were suffering.  Or maybe they knew and, just like Malvolio Petrex a hundred years earlier, chose to ignore it.  The population at large was subjected to far worse conditions than Petrex’s world had experienced one hundred years earlier: debilitating heat waves and droughts, intense storms bringing on severe flooding, encroaching oceans because of the severe degree of sea level rise, all brought on by the excess global warming that burning fossil fuels induced. 

By the time of the centennial anniversary the opportunity for effective action to combat global warming had long passed.

 
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The fabled centennial celebration of the Paris Agreement has already arrived, 99 years early.  The newly elected U. S. President, Donald Trump, is a man whose wealth could well serve as a model for the patriarch Malvolio Petrex.  He shows his wealth at least partly by erecting palatial residences and developing exclusive golf courses around the globe. 

Mr. Trump has called global warming a hoax.  Now as president he is implementing policies and appointing people to important cabinet positions who share his sentiment.  From the outset, he is reversing important initiatives undertaken by his predecessor, who had set in motion important policies that curb emissions of greenhouse gases.   

Here is a partial list of President Trump’s actions and policy positions:

·        He appointed Scott Pruitt to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead of having an interest in protecting the environment, Mr. Pruitt is eliminating rules that preserve our natural world.  In his previous position as the Attorney General of Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued the EPA seeking to overturn its regulations that protect aspects of our environment, including emissions of greenhouse gases. Now he is the Administrator of that selfsame agency.  The Los Angeles Times writes “The Republican dogma of unrestrained economic exploitation drives the president and his EPA chief. As a result, climate science has become a heretical activity.”

·        Among fossil fuels coal emits the most carbon dioxide (per amount of heat obtained) when burned.  So its use should be limited as much as possible in order to reduce emissions.  But Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke ordered that a ban on mining coal on federal lands, put in place by former President Obama, be rescinded.  The order followed through on President Trump’s overall goal of increasing American energy independence.

·        PresidentTrump ordered a review of all policies deemed to interfere with enhancing America’s energy independence.  This includes directing Administrator Pruitt to reconsider the Clean Power Plan, an EPA regulation issued under President Obama that would produce significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power industry.

·        President Trump issued an order to review the program, issued by EPA and the Department of Transportation under President Obama, significantly increasing automobile Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by 2025.  The review may lead to weakening the requirements or slowing the timeline for the CAFE regulation.

·        The budget proposal that President Trump outlined for Fiscal Year 2018 seriously cuts scientific research in many agencies of the U.S. government.  Concerning  activities related to curbing global warming, the proposal completely eliminates the Department of Energy’s Advance Research Projects Agency-Energy unit, reduces research support for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration by 52%, and cuts EPA research by 48% and National Aeronautics and Space Administration earth science research by 6%.  These agencies engage in essential research on the state of the planet’s climate and provide seed or venture funding for development of new technologies that lower greenhouse gas emissions.

President Trump, could easily serve as a model for Malvolio Petrex, since he can insulate himself from the ravages of intensified global warming.  His policies, to be implemented 99 years before the centennial of the Paris Climate Agreement, will have major immediate effects and indirect ramifications that worsen greenhouse gas emissions and lead to more severe harmful consequences of warming.  Yet we may imagine that, with the vast resources he controls, his children, grandchildren and further progeny can create environments for themselves that will protect them from harms and damages that global warming brings.  The same can be said for those he selected to implement his policies. 

But the peoples of the earth, considered at large, are not so lucky.  They can’t easily shield themselves from climatic harm.  They could well be defenseless victims of President Trump’s policies.  The climate framework that Mr. Trump is overthrowing, begun under President Obama and implemented worldwide with his leadership, could make significant progress to minimizing those risks. 

It’s not too late for the Trump Administration to reconsider, and rejoin the compact of the world’s nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

      © 2017 Henry Auer