Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Alternate facts, but no alternate Earth


The truth shall set you free ... therefore, it must be arranged that you not be told the truth.

The truth, according to federal scientists at both NASA and NOAA, is that 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded by mankind on planet Earth.

The previous record-hot year had been 2015.

Prior to that, the record-setting year was 2014. These records have occurred despite conservative insistence a few years back that global warming had ceased and perhaps even begun to reverse itself.

We don't yet know what will happen in 2017.  Under our new president, we also don't know whether the scientists who collect such data will still be able to collect it, analyze it and disseminate it by this time next year. We don't even know whether those scientists will still have jobs.

Here's what we do know:

We know that such a sustained phenomenon cannot be explained away as "the climate is always changing." nor dismissed as a hoax led by China to destroy American capitalism, as our president has publicly alleged. The planetary heating that we are now witnessing within the tiny span of a human lifetime is occurring at a far more rapid pace than anything ever recorded in temperature data or data drawn from tree rings, ice cores and other scientific means that reach back hundreds of thousands of years. This is by no means normal or usual.

As a matter of basic physics, we also know that such rapid disruption of an otherwise stable system cannot occur without a cause. We know that nothing occurring in the natural world -- not sunspots or other solar activity, for example -- could be that cause. We have one, and only one, plausible explanation for what is happening.

As someone on the Badlands National Park twitter account helpfully pointed out Tuesday afternoon in straightforward scientific terms:

Unfortunately, those statements of established, nonpolitical fact were deleted within a few hours of their posting as contrary to Trump administration policy. All mention of climate change has already been removed from the White House website. The Centers for Disease Control here in Atlanta suddenly canceled a long-scheduled conference on the health challenges created by climate change, such as extended heat waves and the spread of tropical disease, so that it would not become a target.

According to Reuters, the Environmental Protection Agency has also been ordered to shutdown its main climate-change webpage, perhaps as early as today. (As of this moment, it is still open to the public.) EPA employees are already under a gag rule forbidding them to communicate with the press or the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Bob Walker, a senior science advisor to Trump, has said that NASA will be stripped of its earth-science budget and forced to cease “politically correct environmental monitoring.” And back in December, the Trump transition team demanded the names of all Department of Energy employees and contractors who had attended United Nations climate meetings or who had worked on climate-change data.

The demand was rejected by the Obama administration and then withdrawn, but the message had been sent.

Meanwhile, the weather folks predict the temperature will reach a balmy 70 degrees here in Atlanta on Jan. 25. If that proves accurate, this will be the 10th day this January with temperatures of 70 or above. So far this month, we have set or tied four records for high temperatures. By themselves, such localized data mean nothing. But they are being repeated month after month, year after year, in sites all across the globe.

The scary part is that these are just the early signs of what threatens to be a truly profound climate shift. We can retreat into alternate facts that may allow us to ignore that reality, for a time. But alternate facts cannot give us an alternate Earth.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.