Trump Moves the World Closer to “Doomsday”

In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union adopted the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in an effort to eliminate missiles on hair-trigger alert for nuclear war due to their short flight times. It was the first time the two countries agreed to destroy nuclear weapons. That treaty outlawed nearly 2,700 ballistic or land-based cruise missiles with a range of roughly 300 to 3,000 miles.

The Trump administration thought nothing of pulling out of the INF. On February 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the treaty, starting a dangerous chain reaction that brings us closer to nuclear war. Russia followed suit and pulled out of the treaty the next day.

Then the three countries with the largest nuclear arsenals quickly test-launched nuclear-capable missiles. France conducted a test of its medium-range air-to-surface missile on February 4. The next day, the United States fired a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). And an hour and a half later, Russia launched an RS-24 Yars ICBM.

Richard Burt participated in the negotiations of the INF during the Reagan administration. Last fall, he predicted that U.S. withdrawal would lead to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range missiles and the United States’ development of new sea- and air-based weapons systems. Sure enough, on February 4, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced his country plans to build mid-range, nuclear-capable missiles within two years.

“New intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles and low-yield warheads now being planned both in Russia and United States are nothing other than filed-down triggers to all-out thermonuclear war,” Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, told Truthout. He warns of “nuclear winter,” which is the end of civilization as we know it. A consultant to the Defense Department and the White House in 1961, Ellsberg drafted Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s plans for nuclear war.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, concurs. “Trump has fired the starting pistol on Cold War II. Only this one could be bigger, more dangerous, and the world may not be so lucky this time around.”

Trump’s Actions Undermine Nuclear Disarmament

The adoption of the INF led to the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which considerably reduced the number of long-range strategic nuclear weapons. The New START, signed in 2010, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads from a maximum of 2,200 in 2010 to 1,550 in 2018. Trump’s cavalier withdrawal from INF does not portend well for the renewal of New START in 2021.

Moreover, Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 would allow the United States to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks. This new U.S. policy opens the door to first-use of nuclear weapons, which is prohibited by international law.

The Nuclear Posture Review also violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the United States is a party. This treaty requires parties “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

The Doomsday Clock Says “Two Minutes to Midnight”

In order to convey the urgency of the threat to humanity and the planet, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock. It uses imagery of the apocalypse (midnight) and a nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The decision to either move or leave in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made each year. The Clock is a universally recognized measure of vulnerability to catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons, climate change or other emerging technologies that could pose a threat. On January 24, the Bulletin once again kept the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight. And that was before the U.S. and Russia pulled out of the INF.

“Trump and Putin are both posturing as gunslingers in a Western movie,” Ellsberg warned. “But the weapons in their quick-draw holsters are not pistols; they are doomsday machines. And this is not high noon; it is two minutes to midnight.”

Toward Denuclearization

In his book, Ellsberg proposes the U.S. government undertake the following measures toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons:

  1. A U.S. no-first-use policy;
  2. Probing investigative hearings on war plans to avoid nuclear winter;
  3. Eliminating ICBMs;
  4. Ending the pretense of preemptive damage-limiting by first-strike forces;
  5. Foregoing profits, jobs and alliance hegemony based on maintaining that pretense; and
  6. Otherwise dismantling the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which Ellsberg calls the American Doomsday Machine.

On January 30, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, took a good first step. They introduced the No First Use Act, to establish in law that it is the policy of the United States not to fire nuclear weapons first so “that the United States should never initiate a nuclear war.”

The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) forbids ratifying countries “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also prohibits the transfer of, use of, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. The treaty, adopted in 2017, will enter into force after 50 nations have ratified it. Thus far, it has 21 ratifications. But the five original nuclear-armed countries, which also happen to be the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Russia, France, China and the U.K. — did not participate in the treaty negotiations and have not agreed to it.

Resistance against nuclear weapons also takes the form of civil disobedience, such as the recent action by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7.

The Kings Bay Plowshares 7

When I was growing up in the early days of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear annihilation was pervasive. Although U.S. nuclear weapons have been on hair trigger alert for 73 years, “nuclear weapons have become normal,” Patrick O’Neill told Truthout. He and six other Catholic activists are facing up to 25 years in prison for their symbolic action to disarm the nuclear weapons on Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia. They chose April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to mount their protest.

In May 2018, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 were charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass, stemming from their action at the Kings Bay Naval Base. The base is homeport to six nuclear ballistic missile submarines each armed with 16 Trident II missiles. They carried with them a copy of Ellsberg’s book and left it on the base.

The defendants, who will likely go to trial this spring, maintain that any use or threat to use nuclear weapons of mass destruction is illegal, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 spokesperson Bill Ofenloch told Truthout. They are also arguing that their prosecution violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because their actions were motivated by their Catholic belief that nuclear weapons are immoral and illegal. The Act was passed in 1993 to strengthen protection of free exercise of religion. Finally, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 are claiming that Trump’s repeated threats to use nuclear weapons and his illegal conduct have not been prosecuted, so the government’s decision to prosecute only those who protest against nuclear weapons constitutes unlawful selective prosecution.

Co-defendant Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day. The movement, founded in 1933, comprises 203 Catholic Worker communities committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken. Catholic Workers protest war, racism, violence and injustice. (The Catholic Worker newspaper is still published and sells for a penny a copy.)

Hennessy told Truthout, “The U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty is designed to ensnare Russia and the world in a new nuclear arms race.” She warns, “This is empire run amok, we have lost our democracy, let us pray we don’t lose our world and each other.”

It is incumbent upon all of us to resist the inexorable march toward nuclear winter. We must join together in coalitions and protest to Congress, the White House, in writing and in the streets. There is no time to lose. It is two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

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Trump Forgot to mention Climate Change…

…in his State of the Union speech last night, but he did boast about this:

Energy production

CLAIM: The United States is now the #1 producer of oil and natural gas in the world.

FACTS: This is accurate. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-Term Energy Outlook from September, the United States became the number one crude oil producer in the world last year. U.S. crude oil production exceeded that of Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than two decades in February 2018, and surpassed Russia in June and August 2018 for the first time since February 1999. The U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia to become the top petroleum producer in 2013, and has continued to hold to that trend. The United States has been the number one producer of natural gas since 2009, when it surpassed Russia to claim the top rank.

— Sara Cook

https://www.cbsnews.com/live-news/2019-state-of-the-union-fact-checking-trump-state-of-the-union-address-2019-02-04-live-updates/

 

Nuclear Threat Grows as US Prepares to Withdraw From INF Treaty

With the US poised to begin its withdrawal from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty on February 2, there’s been an uptick in media focus on arms control and the nuclear weapons, even as the US public remains largely disengaged.

The INF treaty, signed by the US and Soviet Union in 1987, led to the elimination of nuclear and non-nuclear ground-launched ballistic and cruises missiles with a range of roughly 310 to 3,410 miles (500 to 5,500 km). Since 2013, however, the US has accused Russia of violating the treaty at least 30 times, pointing to Russia’s SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile as posing “significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.” Meanwhile, Russia denies violating the INF.

In December, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an ultimatum: the US would “suspend [treaty] obligations” in 60 days if Russian compliance could not be verified.

“Russia’s lawless conduct,” Pompeo warned, “will not be tolerated in the realm of arms control or anywhere else.”

Pompeo also expressed concern that INF non-compliant weapons (China, North Korea and Iran are not INF signatories) were being used to “threaten and coerce the United States and its allies in Asia.”

Russia counters that rocket launchers used by the Aegis Ashore system at a US naval base in Romania and slated for deployment in Poland and Japan could be used offensively and are in breach of the INF, charges flatly rejected by the United States.

With the INF teetering on the brink of collapse, many wonder if the New START treaty, which President Donald Trump called “one sided” and a “bad deal” will be the next to fall. In 2017, Trump told Reuters, “if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

INF’s demise comes as nuclear weapons arsenals are being “modernized,” non-nuclear weapons development is accelerating, and concerns of system vulnerability are on the rise. Arms control experts and world leaders worry that without INF, new weapons development could accelerate and expand.

In Honolulu, the East-West Center, a non-partisan educational institution, hosted an international gathering of visiting nuclear arms researchers, academics and reporters three days before the one-year anniversary of a ballistic missile warning scare that terrified many residents in Hawaii on January 13, 2018.

One of the speakers, David Santoro, director and senior fellow for nuclear policy at the Pacific Forum, said, “I think it’s very clear now that … the nuclear problem is coming back with a vengeance.”

“For a very long time we thought that this was a thing of the past — something we had to deal with during the Cold War,” Santoro said.

He warned that if the US withdraws from INF, extending the New STARTtreaty will be much more difficult, adding, “We have to extend New START by 2021, otherwise arms control between the US and Russia is gone.”

The Gloves Are Off

Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, said that as the US and China compete vigorously in the areas of security and economics, “We’ve even seen this competition intensify to the point where the gloves seem to be off,” he said, pointing to a shift under the Trump administration by characterizing China not as a partner-competitor, but as an unambiguous adversary. He also pointed to a bolder stance by Chinese President Xi Jinping in calling for an end to US strategic pre-eminence in global governance.

Roy said the US shouldn’t take for granted what he called China’s “minimal deterrent posture” which he described as being limited to second strike capability not developed to intimidate the US.

Roy suggested the US should avoid policy steps that would “provoke China into trying to compete as vigorously in the area of numbers of nuclear weapons as China competes with the United States in lots of other areas.”

China still has a relatively low number of nuclear weapons (less than 300) compared with both the US and Russia, each with well over 6,000. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), nine nations maintain more than 14,400 nuclear weapons.

“I think we are going to see increasing competition in other areas which will impact the nuclear relationship between [China and the US],” Santoro added. “There are a number of flashpoints that we need to worry about increasingly today,” pointing to Taiwan and the South China Sea as two examples.

According to Santoro, the nuclear weapons climate has become more complicated as what was once a “two-player game” has morphed into a “multi-player game.” He points to “severe nuclear competition” between India and Pakistan threatening potentially negative consequences for China’s defense strategy, which in turn affects the US-Russia nuclear relationship.

Santoro also mentioned the standoff between the US, NATO and Russia over the 2014 annexation of Crimea where, according to hacked European diplomatic cables reported by The New York Times, Russia is suspected of housing nuclear weapons.

For a country like North Korea, which is in a militarily weaker position than not just the US, but South Korea too, Santoro said nuclear weapons are “almost irresistibly desirable,” noting that from North Korea’s perspective, nuclear weapons are the one thing that ensures its survival.

“No other conventional capability or political arrangement can do it,” Santoro said. “They have seen what has happened to Iraq [and] Libya and constantly mention these cases as evidence that they need the ‘magic’ of nuclear weapons.”

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

On January 24, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board announced the “Doomsday Clock” would remain at two minutes to midnight in 2019, a reflection that concerns go well beyond nuclear weapons.

Newly manufactured US low-yield “mini nukes,” precision-guided munitions, AI-enabled fully autonomous weapons, advanced cruise missiles, and the spread of sophisticated (but potentially vulnerable) missile defense systems around the world, and expanding into space and cyber domains come into play in the nuclear realm. Meanwhile, Russia, China and the US are pursuing their own hypersonic weapons.

On January 17, when the Trump administration unveiled its Missile Defense Review (video), Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan delivered a stark warning about the defense capabilities of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran saying, “These threats are harder to see, harder to track, and harder to defeat.” Speaking directly to the four countries, he said, “We see what you are doing and we’re taking action.”

That action includes investing in ground and sea-based missile defenses with more interceptors, new kill vehicles, and improved coverage of priority regions like the Indo-Pacific. Shanahan, a former Boeing senior vice president of supply chain and operations, said, “We are focused on new capabilities for new threats,” referring to hypersonic weapons, space-based sensors and directed energy for boost phase missile intercept.

He went on to say the Missile Defense Review “includes a policy shift towards greater integration of offensive and defensive capabilities because missile defense necessarily includes missile offense” [italics added].

Cascading Crises

Today, with the speed of communications, an accident in judgment based on intentionally leaked or false information that spreads quickly through open sources like social media could easily create a situation that has cascading effects.

Jaclyn Kerr, an affiliate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, expressed alarm about this risk while speaking to a group of journalists at the East-West Center, asking:

What if these effects have repercussions that cause catastrophe-type-level events that weren’t expected, like critical infrastructure damage — something was an implant in a network but it goes awry and leads to something actually failing and loss of life. But there’s no way to assess whether that was intentional or not, and that leads to a military attack in a different domain, conventional or otherwise, and it spirals out of control and nobody trusts the information coming from the other side because it’s an environment of disinformation.

She imagines new types of escalation dynamics not seen before.

For example, imagine a message sent in error (or intentionally) warning that New Delhi or Islamabad was moments away from a nuclear attack. The warning time for missiles launched between India and Pakistanwould be much shorter than the 20-30 minutes it would take for an ICBM to travel between Eurasia and North America.

Imagine a head of state who is irrational, impetuous and prone to making critical decisions based on cable television news and social media posts being “triggered” by a widely circulated (but unconfirmed) report of a spike in radiation coinciding with a seismic event in Ukraine, or an incident in the South China Sea, or the Taiwan Straits or the Baltic Sea. Or the Persian Gulf. Or Kashmir….

All of these scenarios and countless other mundane, but more likely events, such as a compromised weapons, energy, or other critical system, underscore the threats we face in 2019.

Faster, Smaller and More Complex

Andrew Futter, associate professor of International Politics at University of Leicester, looks at nuclear and conventional weapons and worries what could go wrong and how complexity can undermine safety.

“It worries me when I hear about modernization programs … the comingling of nuclear and conventional weapons,” Futter said, warning about the outcomes of technology driving human behavior, rather than the opposite. “Just because we can build things, doesn’t necessarily mean we should,” he said.

Most nuclear weapons states, Futter noted, prioritize being able to use the weapons over keeping them safe, and with weapons on a permanent state of high alert and closely linked to warning systems, it creates a context where accidents may occur.

“We’re living in a nuclear climate where we have less and less time to do most things and we still have a lot of systems that are very tightly coupled between warning and use,” Futter said.

The January 2018 Hawaii ballistic missile scare, Futter contends, was merely a continuation of something that has gone on for a long time, citing a history of nuclear scares. The difference was, he suggested, that today identifying and diagnosing errors with potentially catastrophic results requires doing so in much smaller, more complex, faster-moving digitized systems.

This growth of newer, faster, more complicated systems, the modernization of nuclear and conventional weapons, and the deterioration of arms-control treaties like the INF, stand in sharp contrast to the low level of awareness of the threats by the American public, which is largely ignorant about nuclear issues, according to Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Wellerstein, creator of the popular Nuke Map, an online authoritative tool that offers a visual simulation of how a nuclear detonations of varying sizes would impact anywhere in the world, said, “Americans’ perceptions of nuclear threats have just been continuously going down.” One reason for this, he suggested, is a lack of nuclear weapons coverage outside of specialized news sources other than in times of crisis.

“There are a lot of nuclear threats out there. They don’t just occur during crisis periods and yet, the American approach to these things in the general public is, ‘Oh my god, crisis period — I care about it!” followed immediately by, “Oh good, we don’t have to think about it anymore again (until the next crisis period),” he said.

Others have expressed similar concerns, noting the lack of inclusion of nuclear weapons-related issues in American public education and the media.

Wellerstein pointed out that, owing in part to a decades-old aura of secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons, many people have a sense they aren’t well-informed on nuclear issues, with some Americans admitting they deliberately avoid nuclear weapons-related news.

In a world where nuclear issues are rapidly evolving, Wellerstein said he expects that “in a few years people are going to be in a whole new world without realizing it, and I think it’s going to be a rude shock when that finally hits home.”

Mourning Armageddon

In Hawaii, where the January 13, 2018, ballistic missile warning scare is still fresh in people’s minds, many recalled the event on the one-year anniversary, but quickly turned their attention elsewhere. One Oahu resident, a musician named Makana, saw the false alarm as an opportunity to reflect on the broader threat of nuclear war. While on a goodwill tour to Russia last October, he performed in school, clubs and elsewhere in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

During the tour he attended a meeting at the Russian Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry just as Trump was announcing plans to withdraw from the INF treaty. Makana recalled one Russian general thundering, “End of INF treaty! This is very bad!” Recounting the incident, Makana described how, in his own naiveté, he replied, “I have an idea. We should make a BFF treaty,” to which Russians who understood the reference (“Best Friends Forever”) broke into laughter.

On the same visit, Makana visited a recently declassified Russian foreign ministry nuclear bunker. One hundred sixty feet below central Moscow, the bomb shelter was dark and eerie but, Makana noticed, had excellent acoustics.

On the spot, the musician created and recorded a song about the threat of nuclear war, releasing it as a video entitled Mourning Armageddon on the anniversary of the Hawaii missile alert scare.

At the end of the video, Makana cranks a hand-held air raid siren in the dim light. Pausing, he surveys the grim, tomb-like surroundings, breathes a heavy sigh, and says, “It’s a time machine to a place I hope never materializes.”

Trump warns Midwest about frigid temps, asks global warming to ‘please come back fast’

President Donald Trump on Monday mocked climate scientists as he jokingly pleaded for global warming to “come back fast, we need you!” while warning the Midwest of impending freezing temperatures.

“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder,” Trump tweeted Monday evening. “People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!”

WINTER STORM SLAMMING MIDWEST TO BRING SNOW TO SOUTH, NORTHEAST AHEAD OF POLAR VORTEX BLAST

It was not the first instance where the president mocked global warming. Amid freezing temperatures last year, Trump tweeted: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

Trump’s Monday tweet comes ahead of winter storms that are expected to hit the Upper Midwest and part of the Deep South and Northeast by midweek, making travel conditions treacherous.

On Tuesday, more than 1,000 flights were canceled or delayed in anticipation of the dangerous conditions.

The National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said that parts of southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin could see over a foot of snow. The winter storm will then bring upwards of a foot of snow to Michigan before targeting the Northeast overnight Monday into Tuesday.

Rain and snow will develop along an arctic front associated with the storm over parts of the Ohio Valley stretching into the Lower Mississippi Valley on Monday, according to the NWS.

The snow and rain will move eastward by Tuesday afternoon, affecting cities such as Birmingham, Atlanta and Nashville.

“A dangerous week of cold air and travel conditions are coming up,” Fox News Senior Meteorologist Janice Dean said Monday. “Snow and ice will coat even the Deep South Tuesday through Wednesday, which will make travel incredibly difficult and possibly crippling.”

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Winter storm warnings and advisories were posted stretching from Mississippi stretching up through Tennessee into West Virginia.

The storm system is associated with an arctic front that is responsible for a cold air outbreak associated with the polar vortex that will bring bone-chilling cold to the Midwest.

Temperatures on Wednesday could fall to 30 degrees below zero, and could feel as cold as 60 degrees below zero because of the wind chill.

“Some of the coldest air in decades will pour in across the Northern Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes with windchills in the negative-40 to negative-50 degree range and air temperatures below zero for several days,” Dean said. “This will be dangerous and potentially deadly for these regions, and people need to stay inside.”

Fox News’ Travis Fedschun and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

The government shutdown creating public safety concerns at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

HONOLULU(KHON2) – It’s now 32 days into the federal government shutdown. People who work at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center are considered essential workers so they have been working without pay.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center alerts the public when there is a tsunami threat.

Dr. Nathan Becker is an oceanographer and a steward for the National Weather Service Employees Organization. He also works at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. He said the tsunami warnings will still go out during the shutdown, but added that completing their mission to protect the public, gets harder with every passing day.

“We’re not going to miss a tsunami, but the quality may be less, impacting more people with a warning. It would take longer to have a cancellation. We may not get a warning out as fast,” Becker explained.

One of the biggest issues– they are not allowed to do routine maintenance.

“(Our technicians) can’t go out and change batteries for example in gear. They have to wait for something to break before they’re actually allowed to touch it.”

That impacts communication between other agencies. Many of those agencies are also furloughed.

“We’re very reliant on data from partners especially the US geological survey. A lot of that seismic data we respond to earthquakes,” said Becker.

It creates a domino effect. Slowing the entire process down.

“All of those things could delay a response because it will just take us longer to give a good quality estimate of the hazard from an earthquake or tsunami.”

Becker said tsunami education has also stopped

“We would like to tell people what to do if there is a tsunami. How to react to warning signs. We’re not allowed to give any of that kind of information” said Becker.

That could create problems for those who don’t know how to identify tsunami warning signs.

In addition to the public safety implications, 32 days without pay is also taking its toll in other ways according to Becker.

He said it’s impacting morale. And he’s afraid workers will quit.

“If our staff aren’t getting paid, and they have to pay bills like everyone else, and they have to seek other employment, That’s kind of scary. If we start shrinking the workforce, there will be fewer people to perform this work,” Becker explained.

He said they are already understaffed, and they can’t hire anyone new during the shutdown.

Tsunami safety information can be found online on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website.

Trump’s Shutdown makes it tough for groups to help endangered whales

By PATRICK WHITTLEtoday

FILE – In this March 28, 2018 file photo, a North Atlantic right whale feeds
on the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass. Rescuers who
respond to distressed whales and other marine animals say the federal
government shutdown is making it more difficult to do their work. (AP
Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Rescuers who respond to distressed whales and other
marine animals say the federal government shutdown is making it more
difficult to do their work.

A network of rescue groups in the U.S. works with the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration to respond to marine mammals such as whales and
seals when the animals are in trouble, such as when they are stranded on
land or entangled in fishing gear. But the federal shutdown, which is
entering its 33rd day on Wednesday, includes a shuttering of the NOAA
operations the rescuers rely upon.

NOAA plays a role in preventing accidental whale deaths by doing things like
tracking the animals, operating a hotline for mariners who find distressed
whales and providing permits that allow the rescue groups to respond to
emergencies. Those functions are disrupted or ground to a halt by the
shutdown, and that’s bad news if whales need help, said Tony LaCasse, a
spokesman for the New England Aquarium in Boston, which has a rescue
operation.

“If it was very prolonged, then it would become problematic to respond to
animals that are in the water,” LaCasse said. “And to be able to have a
better handle on what is really going on.”

The shutdown is coming at a particularly dangerous time for the endangered
North Atlantic right whale, which numbers about 411, said Regina
Asmutis-Silvia, a senior biologist with Whale and Dolphin Conservation of
Plymouth, Massachusetts. The whales are under tight scrutiny right now
because of recent years of high mortality and poor reproduction.

NOAA recently identified an aggregation of 100 of the whales south of
Nantucket – nearly a quarter of the world’s population – but the survey work
is now interrupted by the shutdown, Asmutis-Silvia said. Surveys of rare
whales are important for biologists who study the animals and so rescuers
can have an idea of where they are located, she said. No right whale
mortalities have been recorded so far in 2019, but there have been at least
20 since April 2017.

“There’s a really significant impact on marine mammal conservation based on
this shutdown,” Asmutis-Silvia said. “We have little to no ability to find
them because of NOAA’s being furloughed.”

Many in the conservation community are anticipating potential changes to
federal government’s Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan, which is a
tool to reduce incidental deaths of whales. But that process, too, is on
hold because of the shutdown.

Calls from The Associated Press to NOAA spokespeople were not returned. Some
spokespeople for the agency have voicemail set up to say they will return to
work when the shutdown is over.

Scott Landry, director of marine mammal entanglement response for the Center
for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said a NOAA whale
entanglement hotline is currently being forwarded to him, and he’s managing
to pick up the slack so far. Rescue groups anticipated the shutdown and are
working together to make do until it’s over, he said.

In Virginia, one of the state’s first responders for whale rescues is the
Virginia Aquarium and Marine Resource Center in Virginia Beach. Mark
Swingle, the aquarium’s director of research and conservation, said the
center would not have “the usual assets we depend on to support the
response” if it needs to assist an endangered whale.

That’s because NOAA staff and the Coast Guard would not be available,
Swingle said.

“These circumstances require extremely specialized training and resources
and NOAA is the lead organizer of large whale and other disentanglement
efforts,” he said. “Live strandings pose their own set of challenges that
NOAA helps navigate appropriately.”

___

Associated Press writer Ben Finley contributed to this report from Norfolk,
Virginia.

Pentagon Confirms Climate Change Is A National Security Threat, Contradicting Trump

The military walks a fine line between the White House’s official climate denialism and the stark realities of a warming planet.
A U.S. Air Force member assigned to the South Carolina Air National Guard assists citizens during evacuation efforts after Hu

U.S. ARMY NATIONAL GUARD VIA GETTY IMAGES
A U.S. Air Force member assigned to the South Carolina Air National Guard assists citizens during evacuation efforts after Hurricane Florence hit in September 2018.

More than a year after President Donald Trump nixed climate change from his administration’s list of national security threats, the Pentagon has released an alarming report detailing how dozens of U.S. military bases are already threatened by rising seas, drought and wildfire.

“The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations,” states the 22-page document, which was published Thursday.

The congressionally mandated analysis looked at a total of 79 military installations around the country. The Defense Department found that 53 sites are currently vulnerable to repeat flooding. Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, for example, has experienced 14 inches of sea level rise since 1930. Additionally, more than half of the 79 bases are at risk from drought, while nearly half are vulnerable to wildfire.

These climate impacts are expected to pose a risk to several other installations over the next two decades, and the report notes that “projected changes will likely be more pronounced at the mid-century mark” if climate adaptation measures are not taken.

While the report is a clear recognition of the immediate threat that climate change poses to the nation’s military infrastructure, it makes no mention of the greenhouse gas emissions driving the crisis. It also doesn’t mention some of the most recent climate-related devastation to military bases, including the estimated $3.6 billion in damages that Camp Lejeune in North Carolina suffered during Hurricane Florence last year.

President Donald Trump removed any reference to climate change from the White House's National Security Strategy report in 20

BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES
President Donald Trump removed any reference to climate change from the White House’s National Security Strategy report in 2017.

The Pentagon’s assessment comes just over a year after Trump eliminated any reference to climate change from the White House’s 2017 National Security Strategy report, breaking with two decades of military planning.

Even then, there was dissonance between the Defense Department and the White House.

A week earlier, Trump had signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which devoted about 870 words to the “vulnerabilities to military installations” over the next two decades and warned that rising temperatures, droughts and famines might lead to more failed states ― which are “breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations.” “Climate change is a national security issue,” the legislation said, quoting then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and four other former top military commanders. And it said that the Air Force’s $1 billion radar installation on a Marshall Islands atoll “is projected to be underwater within two decades.”

Yet a month later, in January 2018, the Pentagon followed Trump’s lead and scrubbed its National Defense Strategy of all references to climate change.

In Thursday’s report, the Defense Department describes climate change as “a global issue” and says it is “continuing to work with partner nations to understand and plan for future potential mission impacts.”

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The department said in a statement to HuffPost that the report delivers a “high-level assessment of the vulnerability of DOD installations.”

“DOD must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of a wide variety of threats and conditions, to include those from weather, climate and natural events,” Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said by email. “DOD will focus on ensuring it remains ready and able to adapt to a wide variety of threats ― regardless of the source ― to fulfill our mission to deter war and ensure our nation’s security.”

The department did not respond to HuffPost’s questions about any White House role in the report.

Oddly, the new analysis omits the Marine Corps. It also doesn’t identify the top 10 military bases within each service branch that are most vulnerable to climate impacts, a requirement of the defense bill that Trump signed into law in December 2017.

“They don’t have the prioritization of impact. That’s confusing,” said John Conger, a former principal deputy under secretary of defense in the Obama administration and current director of the research group Center for Climate and Security.

Conger said he expects that Congress will tell the Pentagon to go back and fulfill its request.

Climate change was first publicly recognized as a major concern for the Pentagon in May 1990, when the U.S. Naval War College issued a 73-page report, titled “Global Climate Change Implications for the United States,” which found that “Naval operations in the coming half century may be drastically affected by the impact of global climate change.”

The issue gained prominence under President George W. Bush, despite that administration’s embrace of climate change denialism. In October 2003, the National Defense University published a report stating that “global warming could have a chilling effect on the military.”

Today, the military still walks a fine line when discussing climate issues, particularly given that many congressional Republicans reject the realities of human-driven warming. Officials at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the world’s largest naval station, have admitted to avoiding language such as “sea level rise” when requesting maintenance funds to raise docks, according to journalist Jeff Goodell’s recent book The Water Will Come.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the new report “inadequate” and criticized the Trump-era Defense Department for “treating climate change as a back burner issue.”

“President Trump’s climate change denial must not adversely impact the security environment where our troops live, work, and serve,” Reed said in a Friday statement. “Whether the Trump Administration wants to admit it or not, climate change is already costing the Department significant amounts of taxpayer resources and impacting military readiness.”

How Trump’s Wall Would Alter Our Biological Identity Forever

 

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/how-trumps-wall-would-alter-our-biological-identity-forever/?utm_medium=social&utm_content=organic&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=SciAm_&sf205243874=1

It would destroy an extraordinary web of biodiversity that evolved over millions of years

How Trump's Wall Would Alter Our Biological Identity Forever
Credit: Sandy Huffaker Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is attacking science. From scrubbing the words “climate change” from federal agency websites to cutting public health programs in the Environmental Protection Agency to burying its own climate report involving more than 300 leading climate scientists, President Donald Trump and his appointees take well-established scientific facts and treat them like science fiction. One environmental attack is particularly appalling, but headlines have focused more on its political theatrics than on its catastrophic consequences for North American biodiversity: building the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. As a scientist who understands the implications of this decision for wildlife, I am astounded and outraged that such a precious biological treasure is being sacrificed for political gain. And I am not alone.

Earlier this year, my colleagues at Defenders of Wildlife and I led more than 2,500 scientists from around the world in declaring consensus over the impending consequences of the border wall on North America’s biodiversity in a synthesis study published in BioScience. In an exceptional moment of unity, we scientists agree with the irrefutable evidence that the border wall is a rampant ecological disaster. This is notable because consensus is rare among scientists. When scientific consensus does exist—as with climate change—it’s a wake-up call that business as usual is likely to result in catastrophe.

While the border wall has critical implications for human migration and international relations, this physical barrier is also an ecological nightmare. As it divides communities where millions of people live, the border wall also cuts through the habitats of over 1,500 wildlife species. As they evolved through time, these species developed specific characteristics to thrive in the ecologically diverse landscapes along the border, ranging from extreme desert scrublands to rain-heavy wetlands. Many eked out a living by tracking rare resources along north-south migratory routes by land and air. The breadth of species that thrive in this ecological marvel make the borderlands one of the most biologically rich regions in the world, and an internationally acclaimed conservation hotspot.

While campaigning for office, Trump riled up his supporters with promises of a “great, great wall on our southern border,” one that will divide the complex biological mosaic of the Southwest. But large parts of our border with Mexico are already walled off. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already constructed 600 miles of blockades without regard for impacts to the region’s previous biodiversity, using the 2005 Real ID Act to sidestep bedrock environmental protection laws like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with no chance for public engagement.

This 600-mile stretch of wall is an unclimbable barricade for 346 nonflying animal species, not to mention flighted species like the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly and the threatened and endangered ferruginous pygmy-owl that cannot fly high enough to surmount the wall. Without passage, animals cannot disperse to new populations to spread their genes, potentially leading to genetic inbreeding akin to the plight of the African cheetah. During natural seasonal flooding, the wall traps flood waters and kills wildlife and vegetation. During natural disasters like heat waves, when water or food on one side of the wall is not available, those species will be left to perish, unable to access resources on the other side.

But the border wall is much more than just a physical wall. Massive construction vehicles drag building supplies through delicate habitat, and light and noise pollution disturb and displace diurnal and nocturnal species. Once built, security vehicles patrol along miles of paved and unpaved roads and extensive networks of undesignated off-road paths, all of which expand the barren footprint of the wall.

These pervasive impacts will not be recognized, assessed or addressed, because the Trump administration has waived dozens of laws in New Mexico, Texas and California designed to protect plants, animals and humans. These are laws that Congress passed, and which the American people wholeheartedly support to safeguard our environmental and public health. With these laws ignored, wall construction proceeds—at this very moment—without environmental impact analysis, mitigation, public input or protection of legal action.

Besides the 600 miles installed, there may be 1,953 miles of border wall yet to come. In one generation, humans will have successfully disintegrated an extraordinary biodiversity web that evolved over millions of years. It is a legacy of which we should not be proud. Building the border wall sacrifices the ancient biodiversity of North America for the momentary political gain of one president. Our biodiversity is less flexible, requiring millions of years to evolve to its intricate state of ecological intactness. Further construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall will undoubtedly lead to the death of countless species in the process—adding to the 10 million species marching towards extinction worldwide as a result of the broader human footprint.

But there is hope. Biodiversity is resilient, and we can reverse this biodiversity crisis if we act now. Congress can still defund the wall, support flexible barriers or technology measures that consider the needs of biodiversity, and require the DHS to comply with U.S. laws to assess and address environmental impacts. We live in an age with technological capabilities to keep people safe without sacrificing wildlife, wild places and fellow humans. Let us apply our innovative minds to this worthwhile task.

Let us not compromise thousands of species and a rare biodiversity hotspot, alongside the identity of millions of people along the border, for reprehensible campaign promises and political theatrics that will only further divide us.


This is what I’m worried about:

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/4/10/14471304/trump-border-wall-animals?fbclid=IwAR1eip8E_iKQHKQWZ4WE8op45zsL2kQg4S1FX5ZJvf9Hn4mf7zcfheJOn9I

What Trump could do by declaring a state of emergency: The Atlantic lays out the worst case scenario

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a Make America Great Again rally in Biloxi, Mississippi, on November 26, 2018. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

If the last two years have taught us one thing, it is to take nothing for granted, particularly regarding the stability and resilience of our Republic. We are now witnessing firsthand in Wisconsin and Michigan how one of our two major political parties has become wholly captive to corporate dominance, and how it will behave when its power is taken away by ordinary voters. Instead of accepting the verdict of the people, it will subvert and alter existing law in order to retain power. It will do this in the face of and in spite of widespread, loud public opposition, aided by its own overriding imperative to exert control at all costs.

As John Nichols put it this week in The Nation, the Republican Party is no longer a political “party” per se, but a mere vehicle, a conspiracy for seizing and holding poweron behalf of a tiny sliver of the wealthiest among us. If that wasn’t evident from the grotesquely skewed tax cut inflicted on the American population in 2016—the sole “achievement” of the Republicans’ entire tenure in this Congress—then the assaults on Democracy underway in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina prove it beyond any doubt, as gerrymandered Republican legislators working in the dark hours of the night hastily rewrite the powers afforded to their newly-elected Democratic state governors.  An insolent autocracy heedless to the interests or well-being of the American people is no longer “creeping”  into government from the shadows. Let’s be clear: it is upon us.

This prevailing sentiment among Republicans that they can act to subvert our country’s institutions without any fear of consequence has its apotheosis in the persona of Donald Trump. There has never before been an occupant of the Oval Office so utterly contemptuous of our Constitutional norms, or even the concept of representative government. No other President has displayed such wanton admiration for murderous dictators accountable to no one but themselves. And now, finding himself under threat by the very operation of those laws he despises, there is little if any reason to expect him to behave any less haughtily, and nothing to keep him from grasping for any tool in the Executive’s formidable arsenal to maintain his hold on power.

Elizabeth Goitein co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. Writing for The Atlantic, she reminds how Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric reached its fever pitch in the weeks leading up to the November midterm elections:

Most of his weapons were rhetorical, featuring a mix of lies and false inducements—claims that every congressional Democrat had signed on to an “open borders” bill (none had), that liberals were fomenting violent “mobs” (they weren’t), that a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class would somehow pass while Congress was out of session (it didn’t). But a few involved the aggressive use—and threatened misuse—of presidential authority: He sent thousands of active-duty soldiers to the southern border to terrorize a distant caravan of desperate Central American migrants, announced plans to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship by executive order, and tweeted that law enforcement had been “strongly notified” to be on the lookout for “ILLEGAL VOTING.”

Without becoming  unduly alarmist, Goitein soberly lays out exactly what Trump could do with the Presidential powers he has been entrusted with, should he feel threatened by the prospect of impeachment, for example, preceding the election in 2020. The powers he could exert are reserved to him in the context of declaring a “National Emergency.” And they are considerable.

Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

Goitein notes that these powers—most of them legislatively granted—are grounded in the assumption that the President will use them in the country’s best interests. But Trump has given no one the impression that he has anyone’s interests but his own in his mind at any given time. So given his narcissistic mindset, given his past behavior and given his repeatedly demonstrated instability in the face of threats to his own personal power, there is no reason to believe that he would do anything but abuse these powers to save his own skin.

The problem that Goitein sees is that we are in uncharted territory with Trump.  No one before him has so openly embraced sheer brutality as a solution to impediments to his policies. And while he has found resistance in the Courts, he has gotten away with more than anyone expected, with policies effectively sanctioning Gestapo-like behavior by our immigration officials, the forcible kidnapping of children at our borders, and his shocking repudiation of the historical right to asylum. Those are all examples of how he responds to external threats. The power of declaring a “state of emergency” allows him to turn those impulses inward, towards American citizens who displease or oppose him.

This has happened before in our history—rarely, but it has happened. Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War Ii, Bush II’s program of wiretapping and spying on the American citizens following the September 11th attacks, and Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War are all examples cited by Goitein. And when these powers were challenged, the Supreme Court has, for the most part either genuflected to them or avoided the discussion.  We have a much more Executive-friendly Court now that an any time in living memory, and there is no reason to believe the conservative wing that dominates it would act to restrain these powers.

In 1976 Congress made an effort to dilute the power of the Executive Branch to exercise these powers. They failed. There are currently thirty states of emergency still in effect today.

As a result, the president has access to emergency powers contained in 123 statutory provisions, as recently calculated by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, where I work. These laws address a broad range of matters, from military composition to agricultural exports to public contracts. For the most part, the president is free to use any of them; the National Emergencies Act doesn’t require that the powers invoked relate to the nature of the emergency. Even if the crisis at hand is, say, a nationwide crop blight, the president may activate the law that allows the secretary of transportation to requisition any privately owned vessel at sea. Many other laws permit the executive branch to take extraordinary action under specified conditions, such as war and domestic upheaval, regardless of whether a national emergency has been declared.

While most of these statutory powers have never been used, again we come back to the fact that we now have a President who clearly feels unconstrained by the rule of law. Just this week we heard Rex Tillerson lament that Trump repeatedly would order him to commit illegal actions. Tillerson had to contain Trump over and over again by telling him his proposed actions were contrary to law.

And here, Goitein takes quite a serious turn, in describing how such powers can be abused. She recalls how George W. Bush leveraged his emergency powers after 9/11 to mobilize the nation for a trumped up war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with those attacks. The consequences of that war are still with us.

There is an ominous provision in the Communications Act dating back to 1934 that permits a President to “shut down or take control of any facility or station for ‘wire communication’. ” Yes, some government officials have reasonably interpreted that to mean the President would be authorized to shut down the Internet, or impede access to it.  Goiten says that is not an unreasonable interpretation.

Although interpreting a 1942 law to cover the internet might seem far-fetched, some government officials recently endorsed this reading during debates about cybersecurity legislation. Under this interpretation, Section 706 could effectively function as a “kill switch” in the U.S.—one that would be available to the president the moment he proclaimed a mere threat of war. It could also give the president power to assume control over U.S. internet traffic.

That would include the ability to obstruct or bar access to social media sites by groups or individuals deemed to be in opposition to the President’s policies or actions.  And under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEP),  through which nearly all declarations of a state of emergency are made pursuant, it would also include the ability to restrict political opponents’ or critics’ access to travel (think of the “no fly” list).

The government also would have the ability to impede domestic access to particular websites, including social-media platforms. It could monitor emails or prevent them from reaching their destination. It could exert control over computer systems (such as states’ voter databases) and physical devices (such as Amazon’s Echo speakers) that are connected to the internet.

But a wholesale takeover of the Internet would not be necessary for Trump to inhibit or impede political opposition, in, say, a re-election campaign in which he found himself facing criminal charges and potential impeachment. And that is the scenario that seems increasingly probable as we approach 2020. Goitein posits a hypothetical where Trump, facing a worsening economy and popular discontent with his policies, drums up a phony threat from Iran that seizes the media’s attention. The threat is amplified by levels of magnitude on Fox News, in much same way the phony ”caravan” story was hyped. He hypes it to the point where he can justify declaring a state of emergency based on the supposed “threat” of Iran to the election process. Protests follow, Trump attacks the protestors on Twitter, ginning up his own base to commit acts of violence. Suddenly the National Guard is in our streets for Americans’ “protection.” Since turnout is severely depressed, Trump ekes out the election.

It might sound extreme and dystopian—and it is—but the point is, again, there is nothing to suggest that Trump would not behave exactly the way he has behaved thus far, stretching the limits of his Executive Powers to the extreme maintain to his hold on the Presidency, particularly when the alternative is indictment and probable jail time.   There is no abuse this man would not countenance if he was advised—by Bolton, Miller or others—that he had these powers, if only he would exert them. And the pernicious impact of state propaganda in the form of Fox News and most “talk radio,”  render Goitein’s hypothetical well within the realm of possibility.

The weaknesses of our Constitutional system have already been laid bare by this Administration and its enablers in the Republican Party. Goitein suggests that rather than dwelling on potential nightmare scenarios that the new Congress conduct a wholesale review of those Emergency Powers permitted the Executive under current law. Because there is nothing to stop Congress from re-writing these laws to prevent the subversion of our Democracy by a would-be tyrant willing to lash out against American citizens like a cornered rat who feels threatened by the usurpation of his power.

Nothing, that is, except the Republican Party.

Indisputable Facts On Climate Change

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In this Nov. 17, 2018 photo, President Donald Trump talks with Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, left, as California Gov. Jerry Brown listens during a visit to a neighborhood impacted by the Camp wildfire in Paradise, Calif. For US governors, including 19 taking office early next year, fires, floods and other climate-related emergencies could become top policy concerns. For some, the concern is often trying to curtail global warming. But other leaders also have taken steps to mitigate damage from future disasters. Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Last Friday the National Climate Assessment Report was quietly unveiled. It contained dire warnings about the consequences to the U.S. as a result of climate change.

President Trump, who once called climate change a hoax, said that he doesn’t believe the findings of potentially devastating impacts. The President has since backed away from his assertion that climate change is a hoax, but apparently feels that the threat is overstated.

Let’s review what we know to be true, what is understood about the greenhouse effect, and how models can be effectively used to make predictions. In a follow-up article, I will address a frequently overlooked tool for helping to address climate change.

Indisputable Facts

Here are facts, accepted by almost everyone. I still encounter some people who don’t accept them, but that doesn’t change that these facts are demonstrated by multiple lines of evidence.

First, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen steadily since humans began to use large quantities of coal during the Industrial Revolution. The atmosphere has now reached levels of carbon dioxide that have never been seen in the history of human civilization. The record over the past 60 years looks like this:

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Atmospheric carbon dioxide record since 1960.NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION

Second, carbon dioxide is known to be a greenhouse gas. I will explain more about what this means in the next section.

Third, the average surface temperature of the earth is rising. That doesn’t mean it’s rising everywhere, and it doesn’t mean the temperature rise is responsible for every significant weather event.

Global temperatures are rising.NASA

I live in Phoenix, and this summer it seemed that we broke new temperature records every week. The past two years have been two of the hottest on record in Phoenix, and that has been the case for many cities, and for the U.S. as a whole.

Fourth, the world’s sea levels are rising. This is understandable because as water warms, it expands. And as the temperature increases, glaciers melt. Both factors add to the sea level, which has already risen by four to eight inches. This results in loss of coastline, and ultimately the loss of some islands.

Climate Change Science Made Simple

Now for a short primer on greenhouse gases.

The surface of the earth is warmed by visible solar radiation that passes through the earth’s atmosphere. As solar radiation causes surfaces to warm, energy is reemitted from those surfaces in the form of infrared radiation. Infrared radiation has longer wavelengths than the visible radiation from the sun, and it doesn’t simply pass through the atmosphere.

The earth’s atmosphere contains certain gases—water vapor, methane, and carbon dioxide, to name a few—that absorb the infrared radiation from the surface of the earth and radiate some of that energy back toward the earth.

Civilization likely only exists because of the greenhouse effect. Primarily because of the water vapor in the atmosphere (the most important greenhouse gas), the earth is about 60°F warmer than it would be without a greenhouse effect.

But, since greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are responsible for the greenhouse effect, it stands to reason that if the atmospheric concentration of those greenhouse gases increases, then so should the surface temperature of the earth.

So, there is a mechanism that explains why the temperature is increasing (rising greenhouse gases) and we have the actual observation that the temperature is increasing (and the supporting observation that sea levels are rising).

Understanding Models

So far, this is pretty straightforward. None of what I have written thus far is controversial. So, why can’t we all agree that there is a problem? There are multiple reasons, but let me focus on the simplest.

Even though we have an understanding of why rising carbon dioxide levels should impact the temperature, the ecosystem is complex. We have to rely on computer models to predict and project possible outcomes. When there are discrepancies between what the models predict and what is measured, critics seize on those discrepancies to cast doubt on climate science.

But speaking as someone who has developed and used computer models numerous times, this is how models are built and refined. You can build a model of a system (like a chemical reactor), but then you have to measure that model against reality.

For example, I can develop a model that may predict that the outlet concentration of a reactor should contain 10% methane. If the actual measurement in the outlet is 25% methane, I need to look at the assumptions of the model. I may need to revise equations that went into the model. Eventually, I will produce a model that matches what is actually observed.

But I am still not finished. I now have to do tests to further validate the model. I can change the temperature or pressure of the reactor, and see if the model can accurately predict the output under the new conditions. Over time, and through experimentation, I gain confidence in the model’s ability to predict changes — which is my ultimate objective.

This is the case with climate models. If a model incorrectly predicts a temperature, it may be that we simply don’t fully understand some of the feedback loops. So, we revise and tweak the model until it better replicates reality. Then we can extrapolate into the future with a higher degree of confidence.

There is uncertainty in modeling, and that’s seized upon by critics to overstate the uncertainty about the possible outcomes.

Conclusions

Make no mistake. The earth is warming. Some want to argue about how much of that impact is man-made, and how much is a function of natural fluctuations in the climate. But carbon dioxide concentrations are also climbing, and we know humans are responsible for that. So we know that humans are making at least some impact.

The bottom line is we are conducting an unprecedented experiment on the ecosystem, and we can say with a high degree of confidence that further warming is in store. Given the risks, we should use every tool in our arsenal to address this issue.

In the next article, I will address one largely overlooked approach.

Robert Rapier is a chemical engineer in the energy industry. Robert has 25 years of international engineering experience in the chemicals, oil and gas, and renewable energy industries, and holds several patents related to his work. He has worked in the areas of oil refining,…

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Robert Rapier has over 20 years of experience in the energy industry as an engineer and an investor. Follow him on Twitter @rrapier or at Investing Daily.