Dear President-elect Donald Trump,
Your probability-defying win showed that unexpected events are all around us. We don't always know what's going to happen. But with the climate system, there exist certain feedback loops that build upon each other exponentially. We can't expect rising temperatures to be contained. And we can't rely on the status quo to fight a disaster we know is coming, but whose contours we can't see clearly yet.
The World Meteorological Organization just released a report on the state of the world's climate. As I've written on this blog before, 2016 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record.
The organization reports: "Annual and long-term changes in the climate system can aggravate social, humanitarian and environmental pressure. According to International Organisation for Migration, population migration is expected to increase as a result of more frequent and potentially more intense weather-related disasters, competition and conflict over shrinking resources, and rising sea levels rendering coastal and low-lying zones uninhabitable." The world will be a much more chaotic and messy place if we don't stop climate change soon.
The WMO's Secretary-General Petteri Taalas reports: "'In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different." The Arctic permafrost contains tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Warming there could unlock this methane and exacerbate already dangerous warming.
Your election proved that there is reason to question business as usual. While I disagree with many of your policies, I agree that our cultural and political class needs to be shaken up to care about the economically disadvantaged. You smartly saw this--and no one else did. I also have a track record of ruffling feathers and questioning taken-for-granted notions. I think you could use your ability to see the unseen to solve the climate crisis.
David W. Orr writes in his book Dangerous Years, "What is now at stake is so immense that we hesitate to call it by its right name. Indeed it is so irrevocable, irreversible, vast and unprecedented that we have no words for it. Call it the 'death of birth,' the end of evolution, 'ecocide,' or the destruction of civilization. But by any name we have no adequate way to describe the enormity of what is at risk and the losses and suffering that we are imposing on posterity."
But how, in the age of science and information, did this come to be? Of many possibilities I will mention the two that I think will prove to be helpful in making the transition to a decent future. The first is that along the way to the postmodern world, we lost much of the capacity for gratitude and ceased to believe that the mystery of life was a gift at all. Life happened by chance and evolution and not as a gift that implies a giver or the obligation to return the gift. In a more calculating time, gratitude ran inversely proportional to favors not yet granted. It was not always so.
(Orr also identifies our loss of ritual as a factor as to why we've fallen asleep on conserving a livable climate.)
One of the most important things you can do to stop climate change is to advance and build upon the Paris agreement on climate reached in December of 2015. You can use your business acumen to spur innovation in our adoption of clean energy. And you can lead by example by promoting scientific advisers who do not question climate change because they have cooler heads; but who are so invested in hard facts that they see how complex crises can actually create business opportunities.
I'm known as a dreamer. You're known as a take-no-guff businessman. When the dreamers get to work and the businesspeople learn to dream, there's no end to what the world can accomplish. I hope you take my advice and work to stop climate change.