As a scientist who’s lived here for decades, I’m troubled at the prospect that climate change will drive sea-level rise where Louisiana meets the Gulf of Mexico — and increase the likelihood of more powerful hurricanes like Katrina, along with the kind of no-name storms that devastated the Baton Rouge area in August.
Like Trump, Putin is also keen about fossil fuels, awarding now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the Russian Order of Friendship for his deals — while leading Exxon Mobil — with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil giant. These two corporations jointly control exploration rights to vast areas of the Arctic and beyond, including Kara, Laptev, Chuckchi, and Black Sea regions. Exxon Mobil — a major funder of climate change denial — and the U.S. now stand to gain access to vast Arctic fossil fuel deposits, and Rosneft stands to gain technology.
The Russian arctic alone contains massive ore deposits of nickel, copper, tin, uranium, aluminum, iron, titanium, cobalt, and diamonds. Arctic shipping could be largely controlled by the U.S. and Russia, giving both countries’ extensive arctic shoreline and strategic military advantages.
Trump’s vision for firing up the economy and jobs with fossil fuel extraction explains his opposition to global trade deals, the Paris Climate Accord, the EPA, and government scientists in general, all of which involve environmental safeguards.
Trump’s plans, including coal and more pipelines, put global warming on steroids. It’s threatening enough that the industrial revolution, powered by fossil fuel combustion, spewed far more CO2 into the atmosphere than the Earth could absorb, strengthening the greenhouse effect, which acts like a blanket, warming the planet beneath. While still ice-covered, the Arctic Ocean once cooled the planet by reflecting summer sunlight. As more water becomes ice-free, the sun heats those areas instead. Warmer water causes more melting, thus strengthening the warming force, like a runaway train. Humans amplify this effect by accessing more and more fossil fuels the more the Arctic melts, thereby putting ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
It gets worse. Methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, belches from melting arctic permafrost and warming oceans — and from rice fields and cattle — throwing on more blankets.
The 2.3º Fahrenheit that humans have warmed the planet is already wreaking havoc for humans, contributing to droughts, floods, wildfires, mega-storms, environmental refugees, and wars. Some countries are running out of fresh water, and islands are running out of land. Warming and acidifying oceans are bleaching coral reefs, weakening ocean circulation, collapsing fisheries, and parching agricultural regions.
Geopolitical and climate threats are terrifying enough. Combine them with two ambitious men scorning limits to power, and they’re downright terrifying. What we should be doing for our survival, but aren’t, is strengthening science, government protections of the environment, a free and independent press, sustainable energy and its infrastructure; we should also be implementing a carbon fee to incentivize innovation, and sustainable energy production that creates far safer jobs — and way more of them — than fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, Trump and Putin are advocating a planetary fire-sale (pun intended), using the proceeds to advance vast wealth and political hegemony for the privileged few. It’s high time to investigate and resist, regardless of one’s ideology or politics. Nature makes no such distinctions, and neither will our kids and grandkids, agonizing over their stark choices on a deteriorating planet.
Thomas W. Sherry is acting chair of Tulane’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Ecology Russia.