The Peril of Ignorance

On June 1, 2017, Donald Trump decided the United States would join Syria and Nicaragua as the only two countries on the planet that would not be part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. To be clear, Syria has not signed mainly due to its ongoing civil war. And Nicaragua didn’t sign on primarily because the Agreement itself is non-binding and, in their opinion, not tough enough. The Nicaraguan envoy, Paul Oquist, stated that they would continue with its plan to be 90% renewable by 2020. So, by pulling America out of this Agreement, Trump has turned this country into something of a pariah. The global reaction has been swift and brutal:

  • The Finnish Minister of Environment said the United States had ‘never been so small’ and that the world does not need the kind of leadership Trump represents
  • An official with the Vatican called it a ‘huge slap in the face’ to the world
  • New French President Emmanuel Macron renewed his invitation to American climate scientists to relocate to France.
  • Portugal’s President said ‘climate change is a problem and denying, for political reasons, that that problem exists won’t make it go away’
  • China and India renewed their commitment to the Paris Agreement
  • And then there are the Germans. Many are now calling Angela Merkel the ‘leader of the free world’, a mantle the American president has held for as long as I remember. And the German newspaper Berliner Kurier headline for June 2 reads: “Erde an Trump: Fuck you!” (the first part translates to World to Trump. The second part is pretty self-explanatory)

I am not going to bother trying to convince climate change deniers that they are wrong. But something I invariably talk to my students about seems prescient right about now.

Since I teach juniors and seniors, at some point early in the year there is usually some kind of discussion about a current event or something in politics. While I am careful about how and what I say in those situations (and I try to maintain a role as moderator, encouraging discussion among the students), I make one point very clear: the saying ‘I have a right to my opinion’ is a load of shit. One is only entitled to an opinion if it is based in logic and fact. People can have logical differences of opinion on the application of capital punishment, or a woman’s access to abortion or the tax code. But you may not have the opinion that water consists of something other than two hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. You may not have an opinion that water boils at something other than 100o C at standard temperature and pressure. And you may not have the opinion that the climate is not changing and human beings are a leading cause of that. Neil deGrasse Tyson said ‘the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it’.

We can have discussions about how to mitigate global warming. We can have discussions about what part the United States should play in helping less developed countries. We cannot, however, have a discussion about setting global temperature records for several consecutive years. It would be akin to debating if fish live in the water. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like what the science says. Fact – science – is impartial.

What really amazes me, though, is that supposedly pro-business republicans don’t see the economic impact of this administration’s climate change denial. The fossil fuel industry’s days are numbered based on the fact that there is a finite supply of said fossil fuel. Research and development into renewable energy technologies (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) will create jobs and encourage growth across many other sectors. But with Trump’s declaration today, he is singlehandedly ceding that growth potential to China, India and Europe.

If you do not accept that the Earth is warming and that we are a major cause of that, there is nothing I can say that will change your mind. If you do not care that there is a finite amount of oil left in the ground, I don’t have much of a response. But I do hope that you will at least support alternate energy research, if only for the economic benefit.

Donald Trump may have taken the country out of the Paris Agreement, but individuals, states and localities will hopefully still do their part. But, unfortunately, the United States will now be alone in turning its back on the future of our planet. American exceptionalism indeed.

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