We live in an age of denial perpetuated by a political culture of ignorance that willfully embraces anti-intellectualism. There are consequences to this, including real and present threats to our national security.
Happy "400 Day"
The earth, and its human occupants, reached an important milestone last week. Carbon dioxide levels for the first time in hominid history surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) as measured at Cape Grim in Tasmania. This southern hemisphere measurement is particularly interesting because unlike those made in the north, observations are not subject to large seasonal cycles, meaning we have reached this threshold everywhere in all seasons. Yet this story has barely been mentioned, if at all, in the media. That is like the captain of the Titanic neglecting to inform passengers that a large hole had developed in the ship's hull. This is not a minor oversight.
A Warmer World
In 1800 prior to the industrial revolution carbon dioxide levels hovered around 280 ppm. Since 1850 rising carbon emissions have pushed global temperatures higher by about 1.5 degrees Celsius. Almost all models predict that the global climate will warm by at least 2 degrees once carbon dioxide levels reach 450 ppm. A global scientific consensus among more than 2,000 of the world's preeminent climatologists from 154 countries brought together by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has this 2 degree rise as a critical threshold. At this point we anticipate melting ice sheets, sea level rise, coastal erosion, shifts in food production and water availability, increase in the number and intensity of storms, more frequent and intense droughts and heat waves, more and more intense wildfires, expansion of tropical diseases into the north, and mass migrations unprecedented in human history.
The Hypocrisy of Denial
Donald Trump claims he "is not a big believer in global warming" because the warnings are "a total hoax" and "bullshit" based on "pseudoscience." Thus dismissing the knowledge, experience and data of those 2,000 scientists from 154 countries. Yet this prominent denier has cited global warming and its impacts as the rationale for building a wall at his golf course in County Claire, Ireland. His permit application notes that erosion due to rising seas and extreme weather are a consequence of climate change - the reality of which he refutes. He cites as justification the very thing he dismisses as a hoax.
Trump is not alone in denying reality or in the hypocrisy involved in that denial. Every prominent leader of the GOP denies that climate change is real. Hypocritically these pols say they cannot accept that climate change is real with the phrase "I'm not a scientist" but claim they know enough science to reject the scientific consensus. Oddly none say he is "not a doctor" when it comes to the abortion debate. The GOP remains the only major western political party in the world to deny the reality of climate change.
Every winter some silly wag or political hack laughs off global warming because it snows, thereby conflating climate and weather. With every snow storm newspaper editors across the country trot out the old and tired cartoon of the global warming group meeting canceled due to snow and ice. This confusion between local and global events is a consequence of ignorance. Arctic air will always be brutally cold even in the most extreme cases of global warming. Snow and ice will always be a winter reality. So stop already with the embarrassing nonsense that climate change can't be real because it is cold outside. Nobody ever said climate change meant the end of winter. In fact most models predict some areas will experience an increase in intense snowfall during winter months followed by hotter and drier months in later seasons as the average global temperature rises.
Who Do You Trust -- the DOD or Donald Trump?
The U.S. military is not waiting around for the deniers to get onboard. The GOP ostensibly supports a strong military focused on protecting our national security; yet denies one of the biggest threats to that security as identified by the very armed forces the GOP claims to support. The Military Advisory Board, not a hotbed of radical liberalism, enumerates the very real threats from global warming in their report, "National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change." Perhaps rather than listen to Sarah Palin, who calls climate change "junk science" and the "greatest scam in history" Trump and his fellow conservatives should read what the U.S. military has concluded:
Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.
But Donald Trump dismissed climate change as "pseudoscience."
The Department of Defense concludes that,
Coordinated and well-executed actions to limit heat-trapping gases and increase resilience to help prevent and protect against the worst projected climate change impacts are required -- now.
But Donald Trump is not a "big believer" in climate change.
The military's National Security Strategy, made public in February 2015, states that:
The U.S. Navy is particularly concerned about the national security threats of an ice-free Arctic, which is soon upon us. The Department of Defense report to Congress on "Arctic Operations and the Northwest Passage" concludes that the "Arctic is warming on average twice as fast as the rest of the planet" and that increased human activity in the region could lead to "competition for resources and boundary disputes that may result in conflict..." With rising temperatures, the Navy now says that the Arctic will "give the U.S. its first new ocean to police since the annexation of the Pacific Northwest in 1846."
But Donald Trump claims global warming is "bullshit."
Who do you believe has a more accurate handle on reality, Donald Trump or the Department of Defense? These reports and conclusions are not the rantings of left wing extremists but from the very people and institutions in which Republicans put so much faith. If the GOP wishes to deny climate change they must deny any DOD funding requests for any effort to combat its consequences. If not they are nothing but Trump asking for permission to build a wall against a threat he denies exists. You cannot have it both ways even in this age of hyper-hypocrisy. You can accept the conclusions of the world's climatologists and geologists and U.S. military, or you can choose to have Sarah Palin as your science guide, but you cannot do both.
The Consequences of Ignorance
Irrationality, scorn for the truth, contempt for science and the warm embrace of willful ignorance are all direct and disturbing contributors to climate change denial, the anti-evolution movement -- and Donald Trump. The rise of Donald Trump as a national candidate and the denial of global warming are inevitable consequences of a political culture that embraces anti-intellectualism as a virtue. The Donald as a candidate could not exist without the suspension of reason. Trump and a political culture hostile to science are symptoms of the same malady, a society sick with extremism borne from faith-based reasoning in a population incapable of making rational choices. Faith in the absence of evidence, or continued faith when presented with conclusive contrary proof an idea has failed, is no basis for reasonable dialogue. When beliefs are divorced from reality and objective truth anything goes; we lose the ability to have any meaningful discourse to solve our very real problems. We get Donald Trump instead. If we do not share a common version of reality we have no basis for any dialogue at all. We see this inability to address issues rationally in the debate about sane gun control, LGBT rights, abortion, vaccinations, GMOs, environmental protection, education, energy policy and national security. We see it in our struggle to promote public health because of partisan extremism and irrational opposition to Obamacare. We see this right at home in our widening butts and waistlines because we believe utter nonsense about diet and nutrition. We saw it when Sarah Palin erupted on the national scene as the nation's first candidate obviously and clearly unqualified for office and we see it in the candidacy of Trump today.
Trump's campaign highlights like few others could that we are in a race for the bottom, in which the candidate who best embraces ignorance and hate wins. When beliefs are divorced from reality, a hallmark of the Trump's outrageous claims, nothing is off limits. With no common understanding of even baseline truths, we get proposals of pure fantasy to build border walls, deport 11 million people, kill the families of terrorists, identify Muslims and track their movements, and exclude them from our lands. We can close mosques. All without consequence. Reality and objective truths are no constraint.
We have never before witnessed so clearly the clash of reason and faith, science and religion, truth and the big lie, demagoguery and sane debate. Disdain for the scientific method is front and center in Republican philosophy. With faith-based reasoning politicians are not constrained by the annoying shackles of reality like the IPCC consensus on climate change. False statements about Planned Parenthood are taken at face value by party sympathizers even when easily shown to be false. Irrational fears are stoked about transgender bathrooms. With no grip on reality people believe that their guns are going to be taken away; that evolution is just a theory and therefore has no greater validity than creationism. Fighting evolution has become an integral part of the GOP fabric, a modern day version of the Church's attacks on Galileo. Never mind that we can demonstrate evolution in a Petri dish; it has been proven across multiple fields of science including genetics, biogeography and paleontology. Even the Pope in 1996 grudgingly admitted that evolution is "more than just a theory." But the GOP hangs tightly to the fifteenth century on the precarious tendrils of faith immune to reason and fact. With no filter of rationality, Fox News becomes legitimate; and a clownish buffoon who denies global warming in the face of dire national security warnings from our own military can become a candidate for the presidency.
Unlike the pabulum of most campaign slogans, our future truly is at stake here as we cross the threshold of 400 ppm. That is real. For those Bernie Sanders supports who contemplate not voting for Hillary Clinton, hear this: you will "feel the Bern" - every day as the earths gets hotter and hotter. And to everybody else with the insane thought of voting for Trump: happy 400 day.