We’ve all seen the “hockey stick” graph curve of global carbon dioxide emissions, how steep it is and how closely it correlates with rising global temperature averages. As of last month, the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere reached 410 parts per million (ppm) — more than 100 ppm higher than at any time in the last 400,000 years of Earth’s history.
Add the rapidly rising rates of two other greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, and you have a witches’ brew that has already triggered the sixth mass extinction event. This climate disruption is anthropogenic; as a technologically super-empowered species, we have caused it; and as the world’s greatest military and economic power, we Americans are responsible for most of the damage.
In 1912, we surpassed the United Kingdom as the world’s biggest source of cumulative CO2 pollution. We hold that dubious distinction today: According to CarbonBrief, we have spewed 397,000,000,000 metric tons (397 Gt) into the atmosphere since 1750. China, our nearest competitor, is charged with just over half that amount — 214 Gt. Although China’s annual CO2 emission rates now exceed ours, we have had a far larger carbon footprint for a much longer time than they have.
Knowing this, how do we explain Donald Trump’s peremptory decision to withdraw the U.S. form the Paris Climate Accord? He reassured us from the Rose Garden in June 2017 that he is “someone who cares deeply about the environment,” and vowed to protect our country from “an international agreement [that] could prevent the United States from conducting its own domestic affairs,” as all the nations of the world (except Russia, Iran, Turkey, South Sudan, and eight others) work to decrease greenhouse gas pollution. How would disadvantaging clean, renewable energy generation in favor of coal, oil, and natural gas combustion benefit our economy in the long term?
The answer to these questions, as we have seen in the Mueller Report, is short-sighted self interest. Whatever it takes to legitimize a tainted election; whatever it takes to gratify his corporate and evangelical donors; whatever it takes to win re-election: Political expediency trumps justice, morality, and science in our ‘new normal.’ We can fix this in 2020.