The Trump Hitler Nexus

The Albany Times Union printed a column by Harry Rosenfeld “Trump’s Rise Mirrors 30s Hitler.” He makes the point quite well, citing numerous “congruities” between Hitler’s statements and those of Donald Trump. As readers of this blog know, I was on this comparison quite a long time ago.

Here we are with Trump almost in office. The talk yesterday in the press was about Trump’s plans to create a registry for muslims. What form will this take? Despite all their propaganda, the Nazis were not slow to realize that you cannot tell a person’s religion or even racial background just by looking at them. To identify Jews, they resorted to forcing them to wear a standardized Star of David on their clothing. What will be the modern-day equivalent of this for the muslims? A bar code on their credit cards, their social security or medicare cards, their green cards?

Don’t tell me it cannot happen here. It can.

A Quick Primer on Climate Change

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents a consensus of scientific assessments of a wide body of evidence. Some of the key elements that people need to understand are as follows:

  1. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This means that it absorbs radiation from the sun and dissipates the energy by moving more energetically. This movement is what we feel as temperature.
  2. The concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from 285 ppm to over 400 ppm since the beginning of the 20th century. Climate models of increasing accuracy have estimated the effect of this on temperature and produced estimates of increases of several centigrade degrees. These models accurately describe past temperatures, and they agree that in the future the temperature will continue to rise, by anywhere from 2 to 5 centigrade degrees by the year 2100.
  3. The increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere arises from combustion of fossil fuel. Scientists know this because they have done the math. The amount burned so far accounts for the increase in the concentration of the gas in the atmosphere. Another piece of evidence is that the extra carbon bears the signature of fossil fuels, in that it has less of the isotope carbon-14. This isotope is constantly produced in the upper atmosphere by irradiation of nitrogen gas. Plants pick this up and ultimately pass it along to animals and other organisms. When organisms die, the spontaneous breakdown of carbon-14 is not compensated by any further uptake of new carbon-14, so the amount of carbon-14 declines in their remains. Coal, gas, and petroleum are the remains of organisms long dead, and thus thoroughly depleted in carbon-14. So what do we expect to happen over the course of decades of burning this material? We expect the relative amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere to decline. That is exactly what is happening, and furthermore the decrease agrees with the amounts of petroleum gas and coal that we have burned.
  4. Worldwide temperatures have increased by about one centigrade degree since the beginning of the 20th century, and in places the temperature rises have been considerably greater. The effects of this have been manifold: glaciers have melted, sea ice has decreased, tropical marine ecosystems have migrated away from the equator toward the poles, and the ocean itself has gotten warmer as it equilibrates with the air. There are many additional signs of the effects of increased global temperature cited in the IPCC report.
  5. The character of a biome, that is the organisms that live in a given area, is determined by temperature and rainfall. As temperatures rise worldwide, whole biomes will be affected. The response will be largely an increased number of extinctions, because, despite evolution’s tendency to favor the emergence of more adaptive forms, this emergence is generally not rapid, even for a single species, much less so for the large collections of species that make up a biome such as a tropical rain forest or a temperate deciduous forest like the one I live in. Evidence indicates that when there is an extinction like this that is spread over the whole planet, it takes about 10 million years for evolution to restore the original level of biodiversity. The new organisms will not just re-create the old ones. They will be very different for a host of reasons. The world of that distant era will be unrecognizable to us and possibly inconsistent with our survival, just as the world of today is different from that of the dinosaurs.


How Do We Know What is Established by Science?

What does it mean when we say that something is scientifically well established? Scientists who seek to learn something new do not know what others are studying at a given moment. They thus work with some degree of urgency, because others might discover the answer to the question they are exploring, and publish it first, getting the credit for it. Being second to publish an important finding is like kissing your sister. Nice, but not a thrill, for most. There is another force at work though, and that is the need to get it right the first time. If your evidence is poor, or poorly interpreted, and you manage to publish it, you are at considerable risk of somebody else publishing a correction. This is like getting spanked in front of house guests. Embarrassing, mortifying even. People have been known to change fields or get out of science altogether. Now and then there are frauds who deliberately publish false results. They are quickly detected and debunked by other scientists who are only too eager to show them up. Most often such people are unable to find work in science after that. What does not cause problems is if somebody discovers something new that causes a revision in current theory. This is the point of scientific inquiry.

The December 11 Albany Times Union ran an article about various comments Donald Trump has made on climate change. Most recently he said nobody knows if climate change is real. At a rally he asked for a show of hands to see how many believed in climate change. Another time he claimed he jokingly called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Other reports say he is about to name a climate change denier from Oklahoma as head of the EPA.

This shows not only Mr. Trump’s ignorance but also that of a large part of the public. Sadly, many people do not understand science and technology, even though their lives depend on these endeavors. We all drive cars, use electricity, and most of us get our annual flu shots, all of which depend absolutely on science and technology. People act as if they believe in science and technology, even if they say that they do not, or are they not sure, or that “nobody really knows.”

People with an investment in outmoded ideas on evolution or climate change are apt to say – “Oh, that is just a theory.” This exploits a simple error of language, where a single word can have two quite different meanings. In layman’s language a theory is a hunch, even an unlikely hunch. But in science a theory is a collection of well tested ideas that explains a large body of information, such as evolution, or gravity, electromagnetic radiation, or climate change. It is extremely unlikely that any scientist, let alone a lawyer or a politician, could come up with a scientifically credible refutation of any of these theories.


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