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Silencing the Warning Bells of Climate Science

by Larry J. Schweiger

In the 18th century, English poet Robert Southey wrote about a 14th century holy Abbot of Aberbrothok who mounted a bell on a treacherous sandstone reef eleven miles off the east coast of Scotland to warn mariners during severe weather.

As the story goes, a notorious pirate, Ralph the Rover, vandalized the bell and dropped it into the sea on his way to plunder other vessels. Having been gone for a time, and on his journey back to Scotland with a ship laden with booty, Ralph the Rover encountered a severe storm and without warning, struck the reef and sank his vessel. Southey writes of the Rover’s final moments as the ship sank:

“But even in his dying fear,
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,
The Devil below was ringing his knell.”

For many generations, "The Inchcape Rock" was taught as a cautionary tale to dissuade those who might seek to destroy warning bells.

The poem and the moral justice of the story have long been forgotten as the incoming Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress are moving to destroy the warning bells of climate disruption by ending NASA climate research efforts. Trump advisor and former Congressman turned lobbyist, working largely for the space industry, Bob Walker, wants to purge what he called “politicized science” by ending NASA’s climate change research and shifting the funding to a “deep space” program in a blatant move to eliminate the warning bells of climate science.

California Governor Jerry Brown responded that his state might even launch its own space program if Trump shuts down the climate satellites and ends NASA's role in climate science. For the past several weeks, climate scientists have been busy copying federal climate databases to private servers to prevent their destruction.

After the warning bells of NASA are silenced, the Trump administration will undo EPA’s carbon pollution regulations and fulfill the promise of abandoning the Paris Accord. These are not idle campaign promises by the Twitterer-in-Chief. Despite the many clear climate-warming signals across the planet in 2016, Trump has assembled an administration for accomplishing his reckless ambitions against climate and environmental protections.

Secretary of State
His nomination for Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (Putin’s friend), is ripe for blatant self-dealing over President Obama’s Russian oil sanctions as he unwinds the Paris Accord. As the head of a global corporation more powerful than many nations, Tillerson has repeatedly misrepresented basic climate science, supporting borderless world trade in oil while calling for "a global free market for energy." Tillerson, who has never shown any interest in representing America’s broader national interests in the world, will now be our Secretary of State. While ExxonMobil has always had its thumb on the scale of our state department policies, never before has a CEO of a major oil company ever been suggested for this critically important public office.

Environmental Protection Agency
I cannot think of a worse choice for EPA Administrator than Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has deep and troubling entanglements with the fossil fuel industry as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. He ignored thousands of Oklahoma homeowners who suffered structural damages from earthquakes, now occurring every 12 hours, caused by fracking injection wells. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he disassembled the environmental enforcement division and led a nationwide fight against EPA’s efforts to address climate change, toxic air pollution and to protect the waters of the nation. I suspect the Koch Brothers are high-fiving over this announcement, as the fox will be put in charge of the chicken coop.

Department of Energy
At the Department of Energy, Trump is replacing a brilliant Dr. Ernest Moniz with former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is best known for dancing with the stars and for promising to eliminate several federal agencies as a presidential candidate five years ago. When asked to name the agencies, Rick Perry forgot the Energy Department's name and ended by saying, “Oops." Perry’s A&M college transcript consisted mostly of C’s and D’s, and contrasts with Moniz, who has a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in Physics from Boston College and a Doctorate in Theoretical Physics from Stanford University. Perry apparently hates efficiency and clean energy investments and hopes to abolish the energy department that oversees everything nuclear, as well as a large and complex portfolio. What could go wrong with this appointment?

The Jagged Rocks of Climate Change
The World Meteorological Organization reported that the global temperature in 2016 is about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5C threshold of the Paris climate agreement. Last year set another new record as the hottest year in history, and not surprisingly, 2016 also set new records for severe and devastating weather.

According to the American Red Cross: "The American Red Cross provided more assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by these disasters across the United States than in the past two years combined. In 2016, Red Cross volunteers responded to 180 significant disasters in 45 states and two U.S. territories including wildfires, storms, flooding, Hurricane Matthew and other emergencies..."

Things can only get much worse if the Trump administration pretends that the growing threats from storms, sea level rise, droughts and forest fires don't exist, or if they ignore the consequences of massive volumes of carbon pollution-trapping enormous amounts of heat and acidifying our oceans.

Regardless of our political ideology, religion or worldview, there will be a severe price to be paid for silencing the bells of climate science.

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