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May 5, 2017

Climate Change Proof to Convince Even the Most Irrational

Arshad M. Khan


The People's Climate March on Saturday, April 29, 2017, flooded Washington, DC,
with over 100,000 protesters. Organizers claimed 150,000, with marches in 330 other
cities across the country and in three dozen solidarity events abroad. Coinciding with
President Trump's 100th day in office, the marchers also protested his
anti-environmental actions.

The previous Saturday (April 22, 2017), thousands of scientists marched to protest
the Trump administration's belittling of science. The demonstrations were planned for
Earth Day to signal a particular concern with the enormity of current climate policy.
Across the US and in hundreds of cities across the globe, more than 600 actions on
every continent including Antarctica, they excoriated the president with disparaging
signs likening him to all kinds of toxins generally orange colored. When have
scientists marched like this? They are clearly worried.

Contrary to the administration's cavalier attitude, climate change is not a belief; it is a
determined fact, measurable and rationally undeniable. Just about every major
international scientific academy endorses it, including the US National Academy of

The melting Arctic ice, the plight of polar bears, the pollution registered even in Arctic
snow ... none of it has been enough to deter this president. He asked
theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA) in January to remove the climate change
page from its website, which also carried links to emission data and scientific
research. He wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, arrived at after great effort
and now ratified by 144 countries out of the 197 participants. In typical Trump fashion,
he later added he might stay on if the US got a better deal.

On March 28, he signed an executive order attempting to roll back the Clean Power
Plan (CPP) and its restrictions on coal. He said it would bring jobs back to the coal
mining communities.

While of much concern, it may not be as easy as he thinks. One might also have
noticed the power companies (the main users of coal) are not rushing in to support
Mr. Trump.

There is a good reason. The CPP generated discussion at all levels of society when it
was proposed. The initial draft produced more than 4.3 million comments because the
Environmental Protection Agency made extraordinary efforts to inform, conduct public
hearings, hold joint discussions between regulators and power producers, and
encourage collaborations between federal energy bodies. It was all designed to
change the perspectives and motivations of stakeholders. In this, the EPA succeeded,
so much so that even if the Trump administration prevails in its roll back, it is unlikely
to find many takers.

At present, a full 44 percent of the US power supply is generated in coal-fired power
plants. As of 2012, there were 572 such operational stations generating an average
of 547 megawatts.

The pollution from this coal burning comes in many forms: toxic emissions, smog,
soot, acid rain and global warming. To those who deny man-made CO2 as a
contributor to global warming, there is an irrefutable answer. Carbon in CO2 released
from the burning of fossil fuels presents a unique signature through delta13C
negation. This is because plants have less of the 13C isotope of carbon than that in
the atmosphere so that the burning of fossil fuels reduces the isotope in the
atmosphere. It is measured as negative delta13C. The more negative the delta13C
(as atmospheric CO2 increases), the higher the proportion of carbon from fossil fuels.
Since 1980, delta13C has been on a consistent negative slope from -7.5 per mil to a
-8.3 per mil in 2012 imputing human hands. Before the industrial revolution, it was
-6.5 per mil. Put another way, our fingerprints are all over this crime scene.

The current EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has repeatedly expressed doubts about
the issue. Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment
Report (2013) has enough detail to convince any rational skeptic.

For the Trump administration's climate change deniers, one can only present
measurable, undeniable facts. The latest Arctic Report Card released December 13,
2016, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does exactly that. The
peer-reviewed report brings together the work of 61 scientists from 11 nations, and is
key to tracking changes in the Arctic.

Even Indonesian farmers are responding to the effects of climate change. Surely the
American public has the right to expect public officials to be better informed than
farmers, although the latter naturally observe the problems first hand.

What is happening in the Arctic is frightening.  The region has experienced
record-setting surface temperatures for three years in a row accelerating the ice and
snow melt.  In the past quarter-century it has lost two-thirds of the volume of sea ice
as well as snow cover.  The result is increased exposure of water to sunlight and
greater absorption of heat, which in turn melts more ice and snow in a vicious cycle
(Martin Jeffries, James Overland and Don Perovich, Physics Today, October 2013).  
Worth noting of course is that the Antarctic is not immune.

There is a disturbing photograph of the Arctic showing a large green area in the
middle. Ice cover is now so thin, sunlight is able to penetrate through, enabling
plankton to grow in the water below.

The effect of Arctic warming on weather in the mid-latitudes is another issue. As yet
the scientific community is ambivalent because mathematical computer simulations
have not proved significant, at least not on a global scale. Local effects are another
matter: Loss of sea ice in the Barents and Kara Seas in the Arctic have been linked to
cold, stormy conditions in Eastern Asia through both simulations and field
observations. It can, of course, be a harbinger of future global effects when the Arctic
ice melts further.

Whether all the evidence and the logic will gather much traction among the climate
change deniers of the Trump administration is another matter. That is why the
People's Climate March protesters were marching. So were the scientists. Their
discipline, resilient yet based on fact, theoretical yet based on empirical evidence,
bringing benefits to society as a whole, forces them to.