On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would leave The Paris Agreement. The world gasped at America’s choice of a scorched earth policy. It’s a defining moment in human history when presidential power and ignorance supersede science and common sense.
Having spent my entire life studying Earth’s life support systems, I am appalled that America walked away from the climate agreement to save our planet. Allow me to tell you why:
My colleagues at The University of Melbourne, Australia recently presented irrefutable evidence of North and South Pole ice cores. Those cores show that, since 1950, atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are higher than any time during the previous 800,000 years. Those heat-trapping gases are rising relentlessly from humans burning fossil fuels.
So what does this mean for our life support system, nature?
Burning fossil fuels has killed nature at an unprecedented rate.
For instance, levels of mercury poisoning in the oceans have tripled since 1950 from burning coal. Eighty-four percent of all fish tested now contain mercury. Blue whales are brimming with mercury poisoning. If you eat seafood, be forewarned, it contains deadly poisons.
Across western North America, more than 30 billion mature pines and spruce have died from unprecedented rising autumn temperatures, which unleashed trillions of tree-eating indigenous bark beetles. Not only has nature lost its superlative carbon dioxide warehouses, but also, the living trees’ ability to attract and release mountain snowpacks slowly in the springtime, recharging watersheds and feeding 55 million people across the West. In addition, instead of removing rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the dead trees are decaying, bleeding mega amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into an overheated atmosphere. Let me remind you that for every ton of ancient wood, trees remove 1.5 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and give off one ton of life-sustaining oxygen.
Each year in both hemispheres, my colleagues from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Oxygen Program record less oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., released a stunning report showing that beginning in 2030, large swathes of the Pacific Ocean — including around Hawaii and the U.S. mainland — will be begin suffocating from lack of oxygen due to rising temperature.
Ninety-three percent of all fossil fuel heat or 300 zeta joules of energy has accumulated in the oceans. Since 1997, half of that energy built up or the equivalent of detonating one Hiroshima-style atomic bomb every second for 75 straight years.
That super-charged ocean heat has disrupted cold currents from rising, thereby carrying iron and nitrogen to fertilize phytoplankton, the basis of the entire marine food web. Phytoplankton and blue green bacteria, prochlorococcus, provide 7.5 billion procreating humans with almost two out of every three breaths of oxygen. The oceans are missing 40 percent of the phytoplankton from heat generated by burning fossil fuels.
Coral reefs are hot spots of diversity, home to at least a million different forms of sea life. Over-heated oceans are now in the midst of the longest, most widespread and most devastating coral bleaching event (2014-17) ever recorded. Immense areas of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef on the globe, have bleached for two consecutive years. Unprecedented death. In nature, when animals under the sea or on land lose their homes, they die. By the way, coral reefs contain potent cancer, pain and heart disease medicines.
Burning fossil fuels has acidified the oceans by 30 percent. That means coral reefs and shellfish, both comprised of calcium carbonate, melt as ocean acidity intensifies. Already, 53 percent of pteropods, or free-swimming snails, along the West Coast of the United States have deformed shells. Melting has begun.
All forests – the lungs of the planet – are experiencing drought from rising temperature. The Amazon Rainforest, the largest tropical rainforest on the globe, has experienced three, one-in-100-year drought events in the previous 11 years. There are billions of dead Amazon trees — unprecedented.
In 2015, I reported on 337 Sei whales stranded along a remote stretch of Chilean Patagonia. It was the largest baleen, or filter-feeding, mass whale death ever recorded. The oceans have warmed so much that the algal blooms contain off-the-chart levels of domoic acid or nerve poison. The Sei whales consumed vast amounts of squat lobsters, loaded with domoic acid-laced plankton. That nerve poison killed the Seis. Those colossal whales were victims of man-made global warming.
Both poles are melting at a furious pace. All coastal cities face unprecedented flooding in the coming decades.
Nature, our life support system, is unraveling at an accelerated rate as unregulated fossil fuel emissions continue and Arctic thawing takes off.
There’s only one thing to do. Follow the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fifth assessment best-case scenario, RCP 2.6, which calls for immediate reductions in carbon dioxide to stabilize temperature at 1.6C above pre-industrial times. Last year, Earth’s temperature reached 1.26C.
The fact that Trump abandoned the Paris Agreement means that China and the European Union will assume the global leadership role. The Chinese government has already committed $370 billion (USD) to create 13 million renewable energy jobs by 2020.
In America, Governors Cuomo (N.Y.), Brown (Calif.) and Inslee (Wash.) are providing leadership to tackle, head-on, the climate crisis.
Clearly, Trump and the Republican congress represent planet-killing oligarchs. It’s unmitigated evil. For a deeper dive on the planet-killers, I recommend reading books by Jane Mayer and Dick Russell.
The single biggest thing that each of us can do, right now, is switch to a plant-based diet. It’s healthy, easy, water-smart and compassionate. Animal agriculture contributes 18 percent of the climate-altering greenhouse gases. That’s more than the entire global transportation sector.
Our planet and nature need your good deeds more than ever. Join the movement and together we are an unstoppable force for goodness!
Earth Doctor Reese Halter’s upcoming book is “Save Nature Now.”