Recently, President Trump claimed to be a “very stable genius.” The President’s understanding of what constitutes stability differs from my own. President Trump’s unique genius is in the creation of disturbances and instability. He is not a steadying force. He foments instability in our alliance with NATO, and in our political and economic relations with friends and foes. He disrupts our intelligence agencies through incessant attacks on the credibility of their assessments. He destabilizes our judicial system by publicly demeaning judges whose rulings he dislikes. He undermines the free press by deeming reporters critical of his Administration “enemies of the State.” His immigration policies have destroyed the stability of thousands of families, tarnishing America’s reputation as a nation that will take in “…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
I’ve worked as a climate scientist for most of my life. I have been fortunate enough to encounter true genius. The brilliant woman who figured out the causes of stratospheric ozone depletion. Physicists who built the first computer models of the climate system. Scientists who used those models to predict the climate consequences of the burning of fossil fuels. Paleoclimatologists who unlocked a million years of Earth’s climatic history in ice cores extracted from Antarctica. Data experts who measured climate change from space, from the ground, and in the depths of the oceans, confirming the reality of human-caused planetary warming.
In my experience, none of these truly brilliant individuals felt it necessary to highlight their brilliance. They let their scientific contributions speak for them. They did not need to publicly proclaim themselves to be geniuses, stable or otherwise.
Part of my job is to study stability. Not the stability of the human mind—the stability of Earth’s climate system. For over 11,000 years, human societies have developed in relatively stable climatic conditions. Our ancestors lived, loved, and died under those conditions. They built cities, and the grandest cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques. They unlocked the mysteries of dozens of diseases. They identified the basic building blocks of life. They formed states and nations. They experimented with different systems of government. They launched probes beyond the boundaries of our solar system. They escaped the shackles of gravity and set foot on the dusty surface of the moon. They developed machines that can beat chess grandmasters. They dreamed of colonizing Mars, and of finding new Earths orbiting distant stars.
This time of climatic stability is now threatened by a “very stable genius” who denies the reality of human effects on global climate, and who has removed the United States from the community of nations seeking to address the problem of human-caused climate change. Each day brings a drumbeat of bad climate news, with headlines portending a concerning climate future. Remarkable heat waves affecting most of the planet. New human fingerprints found in the changing seasonal cycle of temperature. Sea-level rise likely to be larger than scientists initially thought. The West Greenland Ice Sheet melting at the fastest rate in centuries. Atlantic hurricanes becoming more intense.
These profound climatic changes are part of the day-to-day narrative of our lives, but they are drowned out by the ever-increasing background noise of political mayhem. This noise deadens our senses. It detracts attention from the seriousness of human-caused climate change. It overwhelms voices of reason; voices of knowledge, compassion, and humanity.
Our hopes and dreams for a better world for all citizens of this planet are unlikely to be realized if Earth’s climate continues to spiral dangerously towards a new and very different state. We cannot allow a self-proclaimed “very stable genius” to destroy those hopes and dreams, and to launch us all into a very unstable climate future.