Since Donald Trump took office, more than three dozen environmental regulatory rules — from overturning bans on potentially harmful pesticides to fracking regulations of public land — have been changed or overturned. This has not just been the takedown of a few questionable regulations that needed to be eliminated or tweaked but a concentrated rollback of any rule that got in the way of oil, coal, gas and automobile profits.
And the rollbacks keep on coming. The Trump administration, through Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, has decided to weaken fuel economy standards, and recently drafted new regulations that will drastically weaken fuel economy standards set by the Obama administration to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, the major cause of global warming. Cars and trucks emit around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide for every gallon of gas, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, and they account for roughly 20 percent of all U.S. emissions.
The Obama administration emissions rule was adopted in 2012 and would have required automakers to ensure that new cars averaged at least 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The Trump rollback, on the other hand, would freeze the fuel economy after the year 2020, most likely leaving the fuel efficiency of vehicles around 40 miles per gallon and allowing automakers to essentially stop development of new efficiency technology.
Last month, 17 states (including Maryland) and Washington, D.C., sued the EPA, asking a federal court to block this emissions rollback, claiming that the Trump administration’s action was arbitrary and capricious and done without clear rationale or reasoning.
As is happens, around the same time, Scientific American, one of the most respected and influential scientific journals, published an article summarizing evidence of a milestone that none of us should be proud of. It is such an amazing milestone that it is the first time it has been reached in millions of years. Think about that: millions of years.
And here it is: Recently, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, a premier atmospheric research facility that has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950s, recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million. This is the first time CO2 levels have reached this level in millions of years.
Carbon Dioxide levels have increased dramatically over the past couple of years, according to the article, in part because of weather patterns such as El Nino, but mostly because of fossil fuel emissions, like those produced by automobiles. In what has been an annual event, every year since record keeping began in 1958, CO2 levels have increased.
Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, “Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”
Even with the current emission regulations in place, cutting CO2 in half might be as difficult as a 9-foot high jump (the world record is about 8 feet). So where’s the logic in lifting this rule?
The effect of CO2 buildup in the atmosphere has been startling, to say the least. The Earth’s temperature has warmed — April marked the 400th consecutive month with warmer-than-average temperatures — leading to a rise in sea levels of about 1/8 inch per year. And that means more flooding and deadly storms.
Enough is enough. The Trump administration, notorious for ignoring truths and making decisions based on lies, needs to be woken to the realization that this planet is a sensitive biosphere, and, once broken, everything living in it will succumb to destruction.
A.J. Russo (Dr.firstname.lastname@example.org) is a resident of Mount Airy and a visiting assistant professor of biology at Drew University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Drew University.