This Morning I Gave Trump a Chance

I recently heard that Trump removed the “climate change” tab from the new White House website. Now to be perfectly honest, I don’t know anything about the old tab because I happen to get my climate science from other sources. Having said that, I was nonetheless interested to read what Trump’s new White House page had to say on the matter. I decided to give Trump a chance on this!

Rest assured, climate news wasn’t plastered on the homepage, but who would expect that anyways? With a quick scan I located the “Issues” tab. With climate change a number one issue, this sounded like a reasonable place to harbor the topic. Among the six topics listed, none actually read “climate change.” Fine, he called it a hoax in his campaign, so perhaps he’s being a bit soft or indirect on his website. There is at least an “America First Energy Plan” tab. He probably buried the issue there.

Let’s take a look at the Energy Plan. A quick word search for “climate” yields one result. Uh oh… But at least it’s mentioned! Let’s hear what the site has to say about it. I scroll to the word “climate.” It’s actually capitalized and followed by the words “Action Plan.” Wow, a Climate Action Plan!?  I’m admittedly surprised. Maybe Trump will impress! Let’s read this Action Plan. Following the words to the start of the sentence, my excitement is short and any confidence gone. The full sentence reads as follows:

“President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.”

Yes, the only reference to climate change on Trump’s White House website is in reference to dismantling climate policy. Wow. To be sure, I subsequently query the entire White House website. Not a single result for “climate change.” Simplifying my search to “climate” still only returns two new results. Neither of which have to do with climate change.

Reading the Energy Plan page in its entirety, we can gain some further insight about Trump’s interest in acting on climate change.  After advocating for the increased production of natural gas and oil, it states:

“The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.”

Renewable energy technologies are not mentioned once on this entire webpage. The America First Energy Plan sounds more like the Fossil Fuel Industry First, America Last Energy Plan to me. America, the global leader, has decided to take a back seat on clean energy innovation and adoption. This is hardly the position of a leading nation. This combined with an absence of climate policy spells a very foreboding future for the United States and world. This morning I gave Trump a chance. By noon I was disappointed.

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Shahir Masri, Sc.D.
Environmental Health Scientist


Climate Change #3 – Carbon, Temperature & Geologic History

Over my last two blogs, we discussed climate variation driven by natural phenomena such as the physics of the earth and sun, as well as greenhouse gases (GHGs). While both play key roles in climate change, it has hopefully become clear that on the time scale of present day climate change, it's GHGs and not natural phenomena that are steering the ship. This is the science. Not the politics.

In this blog, let’s look at the relationship of temperature and GHGs from past to present. First, let me remind you that GHGs aren’t new to the air. It’s in fact the presence of GHGs that have enabled a habitable temperature on earth by trapping solar energy. But don’t let this throw you off. It doesn’t take much GHG to have a warming effect. Throughout human history, GHGs have in fact made up only about a meager 0.03% of the atmosphere. Compared to the 21% oxygen we breathe, that’s basically a drop in the bucket! So what we’re talking about with present day climate change is a change in this very modest 0.03%. Over the last 200 years, the burning of fossil fuels have added enough GHG into the atmosphere to increase this to 0.04%. Yes, we’ve always been talking about small fractions. But the percent change from the old small fraction to the new small fraction is enormous—an increase of 33%! Actually, I’ve been rounding numbers; the true increase is over 40%.

If you added 40% more salt to your dinner, ate 40% more calories, or exercised 40% more often, there’s little doubt the change would be noticed. Change of course wouldn’t be instantaneous, but rather over the coming weeks or months. With earth, a 40% increase in GHGs is similarly a tremendous shift from the norm—a shift that will also bring no subtle change. Except, rather than noticing change over weeks or months, we’re talking years to decades. And as the years pass, we’re indeed observing this change. How much change will occur still depends on how quickly we adopt more modern energy technologies are reduce GHG emissions. But the sky is the limit (no pun intended!). Remember, an atmosphere with 0% compared to 0.03% GHGs has been the difference between a frozen earth and the comfortable earth on which our ancestors roamed. Moving then from 0.03% to 0.04%, as we’ve done over the past couple hundred years …well you can only imagine the possibilities! And 0.04% isn’t where it stops. Given the current rate of carbon emissions, this percentage will only continue to grow.

So you know that GHGs trap sunlight and thus warm the planet, and you know GHGs have been skyrocketing since the industrial revolution. But sometimes a picture (or graph) is worth a thousand words!

In the above graph, notice two key things. First, temperature and carbon dioxide (the major GHG) are indeed highly correlated through geological history. This isn’t a shocker given what we know about the warming effects of GHGs, but it’s nonetheless powerful to see the data. Second, modern day carbon dioxide is literally off the charts (top right of graph). If we extend the graph further to the left, as shown below, you’ll notice carbon dioxide concentrations are actually higher now than at any point in the last 800,000 years.

In short, we’re in completely uncharted territory in terms of climate—a planetary experiment if you will. Both graphs are worth a moment of pause and thought. The million dollar question being, how will the red line in the first graph ultimately respond to the blue line? There are many scientists whose careers are dedicated to answering this question. But I’ll save discussion of long term implications and temperature projections for a later post.

If you’ve taken the time to read this, congratulations! You now understand the climate change issue better than most. Now it's your turn to educate others. Please share!   

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Shahir Masri
Doctor of Science
Environmental Health Science