By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
President-elect Donald Trump has an open mind about climate change, he said in an interview on Sunday. With that open mind, he’ll want to turn his attention to a new study that warns that the Earth may be warming much faster than scientists previously believed.
In a paper published in the November issue of Science Advances, a team of researchers in the U.S. and Germany write that, because the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest level in 800,000 years, global temperatures could rise even more rapidly than long thought. That’s because carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The current best estimate, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that, in the absence of major changes in human behavior that reduces carbon emissions, the Earth’s average temperature will rise by between 2.6 and 4.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. The new study puts the temperature rise between 4.8 and 7.4 degrees, which could imperil life on Earth.
“Our results imply that the Earth’s sensitivity to variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide increases as the climate warms,” Tobias Friedrich of the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the paper’s lead author told the Independent.
Simply put, this study adds urgency to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a large portion of which come from burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.
The trend is clear: This year is on pace to be the warmest year on record, beating out last year, according to NASA. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998.
In an interview with Fox on Sunday, Trump said: “I’m still open-minded. Nobody really knows. Look, I’m somebody that gets it, and nobody really knows. It’s not something that’s so hard and fast.”
He went on to talk about balancing the environment with the needs of business, suggesting that some regulations are harming U.S. businesses that are being outcompeted by other countries.
This mindset of putting business interests ahead of the environment is reflected in Trump’s picks to head the Environmental Protection Agency and other cabinet-level departments. His nominee to head the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the government to stop regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
And, last week the Trump transition team for the Department of Energy sent a long list of questions to the department about which employees and contractors worked on climate change issues. There is legitimate fear that the list will be used to remove these people from the department.
As with other issues where it appears the Trump administration will move the United States backwards, it will fall to moderate senators like Susan Collins and Angus King to try to stop the worst backsliding.
“Our country must develop reasonable policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance the goal of energy independence for our nation,” Collins said in a statement to the BDN on Monday. “That is why under the new administration, I will continue to work to advance legislation that would promote clean energy initiatives, improve the energy efficiency of vehicles and buildings, and support the development of deepwater offshore wind power.”
Collins has bucked her party on many important environmental issues, such as sponsoring and voting for legislation to address climate change, promote alternative energy and to reduce pollution. In 2011 and, for example, she was the only Republican senator to vote against amendments to block EPA’s rules on carbon emissions. In 2015, she supported an amendment to a budget bill stating that climate change is real, that human activity contributes to it, and that Congress must take action to cut carbon pollution.
“I think we have an obligation to understand the facts and to formulate policies,” King said at a November lecture at the University of Maine. “I’m not talking about radical policies that will destroy our quality of life, but rational policies that move us away from the combustion of fossil fuels, which add carbon to our atmosphere.”
King and Collins, and most scientists, agree that climate change is a big threat and that human behavior, most notably the burning of fossil fuels, must change to address that threat. Putting businesses’ interest in making a profit ahead of human health and the stability of the planet is a dangerous — and potentially irreversible — path for the U.S. and the world to take.