climate change

The Causes for Climate Change and the Post-Truth Era

“Post-Truth” Is the Word of the Year according to the Oxford English Dictionary, defining it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion that appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It is easier to discard an objective fact if it is something one cannot see, touch or feel. Most people don’t notice that ocean levels have been increasing by three millimeters a year. Also, some can be convinced by other plausible causes for global warming, such as sunspots or non-man-made climate changes that occurred eons ago.

So what can be done about people who disagree with 97 percent of the world’s scientists who believe that global warming is secondary to human factors or who think that the last three years of record heat is merely an anomaly? One way is to sidestep the global warming issue and focus on something that can be seen and felt—air pollution. Most everyone will agree that air pollution is man-made. They also likely would agree that air pollution is detrimental to one’s health, particularly respiratory diseases. And if you can get people working to improve air pollution, they will also be improving a factor that contributes to global warming. Encouraging the use of electric cars, for example, decreases carbon dioxide emissions.

Another reason to focus on air pollution is we know something can be done about it to significantly remedy the problem in a relatively short period of time. Modified car engines and strict emission standards do make a difference. The first time I came to Los Angeles was in 1968 when the air quality was particularly bad. It was so bad that I seriously considered not taking a residency at UCLA in 1972. Before I accepted the position offered at UCLA, I called the Air Pollution Control Board and asked them about air pollution in Westwood where UCLA is located. They told me that of the permanent monitoring stations, the one in Westwood routinely measured the lowest levels of air pollution. I accepted the residency and have been happy living in Southern California ever since.

Even though there are so many more cars and people in LA now, and smog in the LA basin is inevitable, the air quality is actually much better than when I first moved here. In fact, it is 90 percent better than it was in 1960 and far better than in cities like Beijing that don’t have nearly as many cars as Los Angeles. In fact there are seventy-eight cities in China that have worse pollution than Los Angeles. It’s so bad in China that people actually buy cans of fresh mountain air just to get a few whiffs of non-polluted air. China is now actively interested in cleaning up their foul air, as evidenced by such things as their signing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Trump has threatened to undermine this international agreement that the US also signed. Let’s hope it is an idle threat.

Bad News, Good News and Climate Change

The election of Donald Trump—who has called human-caused climate change a “total hoax”—was bad news for those of us concerned about the effects of global warming. The good news is that he cannot legally do anything to stop the 190 countries who have vowed to reduce carbon dioxide pollution, nor can he unilaterally erase the US commitment to the Paris agreement. But he can slow or weaken the enforcement of President Obama’s climate rules. Maybe his views will change when rising sea levels continue to threaten his coastal properties, such as “Trump Hollywood” on the vulnerable coast of Florida. Even if that area is not flooded in the near future, Trump may soon find that insurance companies will no longer insure his threatened coastal properties, effectively making those properties worthless. Such a blow to his pocketbook is bound to get his attention.

One of the reasons why Trump was elected, in spite of his obvious characterological flaws, was because people generally make decisions based on their emotions more than logical reasoning. Studies have shown that it is primarily the emotional part of the brain that lights up (as seen in PET scans) when people make political decisions, regardless of their political persuasion. The data shows that people fearful of immigrants and terrorism in US strongly favored Trump, kind of a “Brexit” mentality.

For a similar reason, I think people can’t accept the data amassed showing that global warming is not a hoax. From an emotional perspective, it is more palatable to deny it. But that denial will probably fade as more concrete events directly impact people, like flooding in Florida or the historic drought in California. Who knows…maybe even Trump believes in global warming, but declared otherwise to win votes from the people most likely to vote for him. What politicians say and what they truly believe are often at odds.

What was bad news for me about Trump’s election was more than offset by the news I received two days later. I just learned we can look forward to our second grandchild. That’s a global warming of my heart.