By Alec Pruchnicki, MD
Mary Trump, the President’s niece, recently described her uncle as the most dangerous man alive. She may have been too kind. Because of his position, he might be the most dangerous person who ever lived.
This is not because he has killed more people than anyone else, at least not yet. More people died from despots from the Middle Ages (Genghis Kahn, Tamerlane) to the Twentieth Century (Hitler, Stalin, Mao). Nor is it because he is an authoritarian wannabe who wishes to rule by fiat forever. It’s not even because he is a narcissist who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. It’s because the damage he is doing to the most powerful country on Earth, and possibly the most influential nation that ever existed, may produce environmental damage to the planet like we have never seen in all recorded history.
Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord could do major harm to the fight against global warming, along with undermining every US government agency involved in environmental research on this issue. All projections are that CO2 is still rising and the melting of Antarctic and Greenland glaciers will continue and maybe accelerate. In fact, there are major sources of greenhouse gases coming into play from forest and peat fires, human activity, tundra thawing and maybe even from methane release from ocean beds. Although unprecedented forest fires and hurricanes seem in our near future, the really unprecedented disaster will be the rising of ocean levels.
Most projections predict a few feet of ocean rise by the end of the century from a variety of causes. This can be a major underestimation and some projections have ten-foot rises by the end of the century. I won’t be around then, but my numerous cousins have children and grandchildren who will be around. They will pay a high price. Possibly as many as several hundred million people living near seashores around the world will have to move, and maybe billions of people will have disruption of their economies as a result. Also, these changes won’t just come and quickly go away like a plague or war. Once the ocean has risen there is no estimate as to how long the disruption will last.
How does this affect the West Village? When hurricane Sandy hit, flood waters reached a few blocks into land. If the ocean were just several feet higher this could have come several blocks further. If upper level projections by the end of the century come true, even a high tide could flood the city, as happens in Miami Beach right now. There is no reason why large portions of New York City, and every other port city on Earth, could not become partially or entirely uninhabitable. Those of us living here might have to forget leaving our co-ops, condos, and houses to our descendants in a generation or two as they will be frequently flooded if not under water. This could very well be the legacy of Trump.
Science cannot be turned off and on easily. A research project or government agency doing work in this area could be closed in a day, as people are fired, or programs are defunded. But to get them started could take years. You have to get initial funding, hire an initial team to start planning research, then spend years doing the research and more years publishing and verifying the findings. A gap of four years in research might set the field back five or ten additional years. A gap of eight years could set the field back decades. There is one problem with this. We don’t have decades.