The gas attack in Syria on April 4 consumed the world’s attention and galvanized the Trump White House, leading to the launch of 59 cruise missiles on a small airport from which the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been bombing the fundamentalist rebels in Idlib province. The pictures of suffering children, Trump said, had touched him. Yet the president and most of his party are committed to increasing the daily release of hundreds of thousands of tons of a far more deadly gas—carbon dioxide. Climate scientist James Hansen has described our current emissions as like setting off 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs each day, every day of the year.
The Syrian civil war has left more than 400,000 people dead, among them graveyards full of children and innocent noncombatants. About half the country’s 23 million people have been left homeless, and of those, 4 million have been driven abroad (some of them contributing to Europe’s refugee crisis and its consequent rightward political shift). The war occurred for many complex reasons, including social and political ones. The severest drought in recorded modern Syrian history in 2007–10, however, made its contribution.
The mega-drought drove 1.5 million farmers and farmworkers off the land to the seedy bidonvilles ringing cities such as Homs and Hama. In the northeast, 70 percent of the farm livestock died in those years. These displaced and dispossessed day laborers, who seldom found remunerative new work in Syria’s stagnant urban economy, joined in the demonstrations against the regime. Some were later drawn into the civil war as militiamen. Others in the end fled their country.
Of course, Syria has had milder periodic droughts all through history. Moreover, some countries in the region, such as Israel, have been much better at water management than the decrepit Baath state in Syria. It matters how such crises are handled. A team of scientists writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, however, found no natural explanation for how rapidly Syria has been drying out over the past century or for the withering severity of the latest drought. Human-caused climate change, which has raised the temperature of the planet 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, they concluded, made this Frankendrought as much as three times more likely to happen than if our coal plants, factories, and automobiles had left Mother Nature alone.
In 2016, as with the previous two years, the world put 32 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. CO2 is a deadly greenhouse gas that turned Venus into a torrid hellhole hot enough to melt lead. Corporate news outlets celebrated this level of emissions as “flat,” i.e., the number did not increase from the previous year.
The United States, with only 5 percent of the world’s population, put up 5.17 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016 all by itself—some 16 percent of the total. Although the US government announced that US emissions fell by 1.7 percent over the previous year, again, such a slight decrease is meaningless if we keep in mind that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is constantly increasing. So we only set off 393,000 atomic bombs in the atmosphere every day last year. So what? We need zero emissions, not almost as many as last year.
CO2 is not ‘pollution.’ The term ‘carbon pollution’ is unscientific and misleading. As James Agresti wrote: “The phrase conflates carbon dioxide with noxious chemicals like carbon monoxide and black carbon.” “The phrase ‘carbon pollution’ is scientifically inaccurate because there are more than ten million different carbon compounds, and the word ‘carbon’ could refer to any of them. Some of the more notorious of these compounds are highly poisonous, such as carbon monoxide (a deadly gas) and black carbon (the primary ingredient of cancerous and mutagenic soot). Using a phrase that does not distinguish between such drastically different substances is a sure way to misinform people.” Carbon Dioxide – CO2 – is a harmless trace essential gas in the atmosphere that humans exhale from their mouth (after inhaling oxygen). Princeton Physicist Dr. Will Happer has said: “To call carbon dioxide a pollutant is really Orwellian. You are calling something a pollutant that we all produce. Where does that lead us eventually
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