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A Couple of Questions on Climate Change for Political Candidates and Policy Makers

I find it serendipitous that, a few short weeks before the 2018 elections, a dire warning has been issued by the International Panel on Climate Change, a warning that should be of major concern to every political candidate, be it for federal, state, or local office. While acknowledging that the negative impacts of a warming planet are already underway, the IPCC says that to avoid catastrophic changes to the Earth’s interconnected ecological and societal systems, we must limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels. The report is based on the findings of over 6000 scientific studies (

As a long-time resident of a Colorado town that is becoming increasingly threatened by more frequent wildfires, floods after the burns, and drought, all symptoms of a warming climate, this report hits me very close to home. Time is not on our side. “We are at the crossroads,” says the IPCC. “What is going to happen between now and 2030 is critical. If we don’t act now,” it will be essentially impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Having already warmed 1°C (1.8°F) since pre-industrial times, the report recognizes that limiting climate change to 1.5°C would require “unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society.”  Yet, the IPCC is still calling for an economic transition that “has no documented historic precedents.By 2030, the world needs to have cut its annual carbon emissions by around 50%. This will require a full scale move away from fossil fuels, which is very much the opposite of the path our current administration has our country on.

It is worth noting that this report is not merely talking about if we will have more or less taxes taken out of our paycheck, or how a new regulation will raise the price of groceries, or how this or that legislation will impact the quality of our cell phone service. It is talking about the future of human civilization. As German climate scientist Hans-Otto Pörtner put it, “If action is not taken, it will take the planet into an unprecedented climate future… Climate change is shaping the future of our civilization.”

According to Georgia Tech climate science professor Kim Cobb, “Many will dismiss the target as unrealistic, if not laughable.” She makes a good point – is it even realistic to think we could limit warming to 1.5°C, which would require completely redesigning the way we live on this planet? How we produce energy. How we produce food. How we get around. I must admit, it sounds rather impossible!

IPCC scientists say it is not impossible. “It is within the scope of what humans can achieve,” the report says. “We identified 6 different conditions we’d need to meet to hit 1.5°C. Is it possible within the laws of physics? Yes. But the political feasibility? Frankly, that’s up to politicians.”

So, these scientists are saying that the future of the Earth’s climate and what human civilization will look like in the coming decades and beyond is “up to politicians.” Wow, whoever said this election may be the most important in our lifetimes wasn’t kidding.

In the interest of voters and constituents knowing where candidates and current policy makers stand on climate change and, in particular, on the urgent warning that the world’s top climate scientists just released to the world, I have a couple of questions that I would like candidates and current office holders and policy makers to answer:

  1. As a candidate for public office, or as a current elected official or policy maker, what is your response to the IPCC report?
  2. As an elected official and leader, what will you do to ensure that the policies and actions enacted under your watch will limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels?

Answers can be sent to me, Dave Van Manen, via email at I will post all answers to my Facebook page,

Two Minutes to Doomsday!

The clock is ticking. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock, “a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe,” the clock is the closest it’s ever been to doomsday (  This looming doomsday has me comparing today’s chaotic politics and other challenges to another tumultuous time in our history, the 1960s. I got my start in this world during the Eisenhower presidency, and started becoming aware of the larger world around me during that iconic decade. I often find myself asking, “Is all this craziness new, or have we been here before?”

Just as it was in the 60s, war is a dominant facet of today’s world. Today, it’s Afghanistan, Syria and vicinity. When I was approaching my teens, it was Viet Nam: print and television images, protests, older brothers    getting drafted and killed, and as the 60s slipped into the 70s, the possibility of winding up in Viet Nam myself (the war ended just as I hit draft age).

With North Korea’s current development of nuclear weapons, coupled with the war of words between Trump and Kim Jong-un, some say that this is the closest we’ve been to a nuclear exchange since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. I was too young then to know it, but had it not been for Kennedy and Khrushchev reaching a diplomatic resolution to a nuclear war that appeared imminent, my life may very well have been cut short, along with much of the rest of the planet’s life.

Today’s MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements can be likened to the Women’s and Civil Rights movements of the 60s and 70s. Likewise, lines can be drawn connecting the 1969 Stonewall riots, which brought the Gay Rights movement into the mainstream, to the recent Supreme Court ruling giving same-sex couples the Constitutional right to marry.

Then there are the current investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia and his subsequent obstruction of justice. The similarities between this drama and the whole Nixon/Watergate affair are downright eerie. Trump tweets, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Nixon and company called the Watergate hearings a “political witch hunt.” Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Will Trump fire special counsel Robert Mueller? Once again, we are hearing the phrase “constitutional crisis.”

Names and details may be different, but there certainly are parallels between the 1960s and today. It can be argued that we survived that tumultuous time, so we will survive the current chaos as well. But there is one very significant difference between then and now. Although it was already on the rise back then, the increased level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, was not yet playing havoc on the planet’s climate. Human activity, mainly the burning of fossil fuels, increased global CO2 levels from around 275ppm in the mid-1700s to a bit over 300ppm at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In January 2018, when Trump tweeted about having a “bigger and more powerful” nuclear button then Kim Jong-un’s, atmospheric CO2 was at 408ppm. Climate scientists believe that 350ppm is the safe upper limit to avoid catastrophic climate change. It rises still!

Despite the similar political and cultural upheavals between the 1960s and today, we are now living on a different planet. Different because of the altered chemistry of the atmosphere and the growing number and intensity of floods, storms, droughts, wildfires and other adversities that this changing atmosphere brings.

The Doomsday Clock, begun in 1947, originally assessed the likelihood of nuclear war in determining how close we are to midnight, the doomsday hour. Through the years, it has moved closer, and farther, to midnight. Tellingly, in 2007, the Bulletin “concluded that the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons.” Hence, nuclear war and now, climate change, are the human-made threats to civilization used to set the Doomsday Clock.

In 1963, the year after Kennedy and Khrushchev averted nuclear war, we were twelve minutes to midnight. In 2007, we were five minutes to midnight. Today, according the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we are two minutes to midnight. Scientists say it is still not too late to avert catastrophic climate change.

This administration and Congress must act now. Sign the Paris climate agreement. Give America’s best minds the monumental task of developing a clean-energy economy and getting us off of fossil fuels. Can we do it? The answer might be found in another 1960s comparison, the amazing accomplishment of President Kennedy’s wildly ambitious 1961 goal of landing a man on the moon before the decade was out. Just five months before the end of the decade, we were on the moon.

The clock is ticking!

My views on Trump and Climate Change

I’ve been reading about how we need to get behind president-elect Trump so he has a successful presidency. If a successful presidency would be defined as finding common ground to begin healing the divide that so defines our country right now, I’m all for it.  I suspect, though, that the president-elect and the team he is gathering to run the country would define a successful presidency primarily as the successful implementation of his campaign promises.  One of his defining promises has to do with energy and climate change, based on his belief that global warming is BS, or a hoax started by the Chinese.  I can emphatically say that I will never get behind the president-elect on this issue, and will do all that I can so he is unsuccessful on this issue.

Trump and his team can argue that human-caused climate change is not happening, is a lie, is a conspiracy, is bad science, or is a left-wing invention all they want. But science is not on their side. As a bumper sticker I saw once said, Science doesn’t care what you believe. According to nearly every climate scientist not in bed with the fossil-fuel industry, climate change is real, it is primarily caused by human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, and it is going to be catastrophic for the Earth that all of us, regardless of political affiliation, race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and anything else, live our lives on.  Scientists also say that there is still time to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, but only if we act now!

The president-elect and company are arguing with physics. You can’t argue with physics and win. Increase greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the planet’s climate will change. It’s the law.  It’s like arguing about the existence of gravity while holding a bowling ball over your foot. You can argue all you want, but if you let go, it’s going to hurt. A lot. Unfortunately, the impacts of denying gravity are so much more immediate than the somewhat slower manifestations of increased greenhouse gases.

It is often argued that the current warming is nothing more than a natural cycle, as the planet has always had warming and cooling periods. No argument from science there – the Earth’s temperature has always changed as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other factors change. Currently, CO2 levels are at around 400ppm (parts per million). Using data gathered from tiny air bubbles in ice cores drilled into ancient Antarctica ice fields, CO2 levels have not been this high for at least 800,000 years. Analyses of shells in deep sea sediments take it back much further, to 10-15 million years. Yes, somewhere back there, way back there, way before any modern human species walked the planet, CO2 levels were 400ppm.  And the Earth showed it – sea levels 100 feet higher than they are today, little ice anywhere on the planet – it was a very different planet than the one we all live on.

When our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, CO2 levels were about 275ppm. At the time of the Civil War, they were around 285ppm. In 1950, they were a bit above 300ppm. Three days after the recent election, they were 403ppm. Why the increase? The science is clear – human activity, mainly the burning of coal, oil and gas.

All those numbers are not liberal think tank numbers, they are scientific facts. Have there been variations in the interpretation of them? Sure. That is what science is – looking at phenomena; developing a theory about this or that facet of the phenomena; subjecting the theory  to vigorous testing,  observation and data gathering; analyzing the outcomes; making a conclusion as to the accuracy of the theory; making adjustments and re-testing; and, eventually, subjecting conclusions to  reviews, challenges and insights from other scientists.  As the past few decades have gone by since the theory of global warming first hit the mainstream, the theory of global warming has been questioned and scrutinized over and over and over.  Today, the science is more certain than ever:  global warming is happening, and we are causing it.

Consider this: Say my young child comes down with some malady, and I take her to 10 doctors and receive ten medical opinions. Nine doctors tell me she has a serious condition that needs to be acted on immediately, and the tenth doc is pretty sure she has that same serious illness, but says there is a small chance it is not something serious and I shouldn’t worry about it. What would you think of me if I ignored the nine doctors plus the general counsel of the tenth doctor that it is serious, and instead went with the small chance the last doctor mentioned, that it is nothing to worry about? Not very well, I suspect. Negligence would be an appropriate word. Child abuse, you might say. Well, that is exactly what the president-elect and all other climate-change-deniers are doing about the planet we all live on – ignoring the 97% of scientists that agree that the planet is in trouble.

Fifteen years ago, the Bush administration cut funding of global warming research and systematically sought to suppress and distort the findings of climate scientists.  Today, the president-elect wants to do much the same, including eliminating, or significantly reducing, the Environmental Protection Agency. And it looks like he’s got Congress behind him on this.  These actions are equivalent to removing the mechanisms that monitors your car’s oil levels and engine temperature. Of course, none of us want to see the oil or temperature light come on when we are driving, but what’s the alternative? Not knowing something is wrong until your engine is ruined? At least you can buy another car – we can’t buy another planet. Such actions and policies are not science based, and they are not people based, they are based on the corporate interests of the fossil fuel industry.

Four hundred years ago, Galileo was persecuted for publishing his evidence that supported the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. At a time when the prevailing view was that that the Earth was the center of the Universe, strongly supported by the powerful Catholic Church, Galileo was tried, convicted and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. All for studying and concluding what we now know to be indisputably true – the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Fast forward to our time.  Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, is a modern day Galileo. His research into global warming led to a massive misinformation campaign initiated by the powerful fossil fuel industry. In Mann’s own words, “I set myself up for a completely different life … I was vilified … I was called a fraud. I was being attacked by Congressmen. I had death threats, which were actionable enough that the FBI had to come to my office to look at an envelope that had white powder [in it]. I’ve had threats made against my family. These folks know they don’t have to win a legitimate scientific debate. They just need to divide the public. All of that hatred and fear is organized and funded by just a few players. Fossil fuel interests … finance a very large echo chamber of climate change denialism. They find people with very impressive looking credentials who are willing to sell those credentials to fossil fuel interests. Front groups funded by corporate interests.”

Sadly, this campaign, echoed by politicians, conservative talk show hosts, and others, has been very effective; in spite of the solidity of climate science, a significant percentage of Americans still do not believe in global warming. And fossil fuels continue to be mined and piped and burned, and atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise.

I have dedicated much of my life to providing opportunities for people, especially disadvantaged young people, to experience the wonders of Nature. I do this work because it is so good for children in so many ways to spend time in Nature (it is good for adults too). And I do it because these young people, if they have first hand experiences in Nature, are more likely to then grow up into adult citizens who advocate for the natural world. I love this planet, this amazing little blue ball floating in space. I want others to love it too. From all that I’ve heard said by the president-elect and the people he is surrounding himself with about their plans, it makes me feel like my work will soon be taking place in a small room on the Titanic. It’s a nice room, but what does it matter if the ship is going to sink? This is unacceptable to me.

So, am I a whiner, a sore-loser, a doomsayer… if I want to see the president-elect fail in implementing his policies that will so terribly impact the planet we all live on? If I am anything, I am simply a very concerned American citizen that wants to see my government implement environmental policies based on science – good, solid science.

Because without a hospitable planet, no lives matter.