Earlier this year, we passed an alarming milestone with respect to CO2 levels. For the first time in recorded history, we surpassed 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in our atmosphere. Whatever your view is of man-made climate change, this metric is empirical and longitudinal. Pundits and skeptics of climate science can debate weather changes, and even bring snowballs onto the House floor to make an anecdotal point, but there is no challenging the rising levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. Moreover, we can identify the origins of the CO2 to determine which particles come from fossil fuels and those that come from natural sources such as volcanoes. Add to this other greenhouse gases like methane from cattle, and we have a high degree of certainty that our actions are adversely impacting the sustainability of keeping our planet inhabitable.
With all of this knowledge at hand, the president-elect just nominated, Scott Pruitt, one of the most ardent adversaries of science to the most critical scientific job in our government, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. This is functionally equivalent to making the CEO of McDonalds the head of cardiology at the Mayo Clinic. Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, won his reelection with the CEO of Continental Energy as his campaign chairman. His career has largely been funded and supported by fossil fuel companies, even going so far as to have energy lobbyists draft his communications on state letterhead to challenge EPA regulations. In other words, this is the poster child of what Trump promised to get rid of when he said he would drain the swamp. Instead, he nominates a career politician who is entangled in fossil fuel organizations to run the organization that is supposed to police these very organizations.
The press will challenge this pick, and in turn, Trump will predictably say the “mainstream media” is being unfair. He will likely tweet about how great Pruitt is and then disparage some journalist who says otherwise. In the meantime, droves of Trump supporters will applaud the appointment, often without an informed understanding of what it means while phrases like “man-made climate change is a hoax” becomes more acceptable to say on public platforms. Scientific findings will continue to be dismissed with anecdotal statements like, “it’s freezing out there”, or “it is snowing in March.” The polarization of the debate will increase and reach a point where a conversation can’t even be had due to the sheer volume of insults being lofted back and forth.
In the end, our efforts to contain to environmental risks will revert by a decade or more, and a large portion of Americans will accept this without regard for their children or grandchildren. Other countries will follow in our lead, and the net result will be an acceleration of harmful activity that will eventually (50 years, 100 years or maybe 500 years) bring us to an uninhabitable point. During this course, other facts will begin to be dismissed as well. As with any movement, the enabler of the movement cascades and spreads. When the foundational element is a dismissal of facts in favor of sound bites and conspiracy theories, it becomes relatively easy to manipulate a population who now only sees one reliable source of truth, and it isn’t science or media outlets. It is a man of orange, berating those who doesn’t like, and propping up anyone he does (until he doesn’t) and telling the masses what to believe and what not to.
That is what we are dealing with. If Pruitt is somehow confirmed, we as a nation, will have said that scientific findings are invalid and we want a man who is directly funded and enabled by fossil fuel companies to police fossil fuel companies. If we can accept that as a society, what else will we be willing to accept? What happens Trump decides to close Mosques because they are a breeding ground for terrorism? What if he says that all STEM education is bad, and we should leave it up to schools in the bible belt to teach Creationism instead? Where does the line get drawn between reality and fantasy? What becomes of an industrious nation that was built on creating value and leadership in the world? How can that continue if all it takes is for one man to say that black is white and have millions of people agree with him? George Orwell could not have predicted this more accurately when his Thought Police demanded that society must understand that 2 + 2 = 5.
I, like many, never thought it was possible for our country to elect such an unqualified, uninformed narcissist. Now that we have, it is hard to anticipate what other “ceilings” will be shattered. There will always be noise with cabinet and staff picks. The Bannon choice is the most obvious, and we wouldn’t be a diverse country if we didn’t voice our dissent with some of these picks. However, this nomination goes beyond appointments, beyond the EPA, and our climate. It is symbolic of what we are willing to accept. This is the 2+2=5 situation. Allowing a man who has vocally stated that the EPA should not exist to be asked to run it is beyond insane. In fact it is the opposite of insane, it is methodical and calculated. It is the first chess move in an effort to measure the ability of an opponent. In this case, the opponent is the American public. Not Liberals, not Conservatives, but the entirety of America. Because if we can accept this, there is no limit to what we can accept after.