Happy New Year 2017

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

– The Hay copy of what is believed to be the second draft of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

We can’t go on ignoring inequality, because we have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it.

Stephen Hawking

It’s time to stop complaining and to start a smiling campaign to ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place. We can’t rely on Prince Charming to swoop in and save us because – at least for the next four years, discounting major surprises – he won’t be making any guest appearances.

My wife used the end of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to describe her mood after the November election. Meanwhile, as Steven Hawking said, we don’t have much choice but to deal with our problems.

I’ve spent my life thinking of the US as a great country – one that has no need of a champion to “make America great again,” but that is not because we are the greatest country in the world; based on almost every socio-economic indicator, we most certainly do not hold that honor.

Here are some important measures; you can go to the original references to figure out what goes into these indicators:

Indicator Rank
Social Progress Index 16
Basic human needs 21
Foundation of well being 35
Opportunity 8

If one goes back to the history of similar indicators it is difficult to find support for the “again” aspect of Donald Trump’s motto.

I have no idea what the new administration will try to do; indeed, at the moment I am not sure that Trump himself knows what he wants to do. He won the election on a promise of change. With the exception of badly needed investment in infrastructure, though, such a departure translates to me as recipe for destruction, not building.

Whether or not America can accurately claim to be “greatest nation on Earth,” it does rank as one of the richest. The US is #9 in GDP per capita (PPP). It is also among the most resilient nations. Here are the top 10 countries listed in this category:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Norway
  3. Ireland
  4. Germany
  5. Luxembourg
  6. Netherlands
  7. United States Region 3 – Midwest
  8. Canada
  9. Australia
  10. Denmark

I have no idea why the American Midwest is listed as a country but it’s amazing to see the extent to which Europe monopolizes this list. Regardless of these metrics, I firmly believe that America holds the top spot for resiliency. I’m sure that the next four years will provide an important test of my opinion.

As I mentioned before, we don’t really know what kind of president Donald Trump will turn out to be. My own expectations are low but they are only based on his election campaign – on what he promised to do – or to be more precise, on what he promised to undo (almost everything).

I fully realize that whatever promises he made, his one objective was to win the election. It worked. A safe starting assumption is that as he tries to fulfill his election promises he will begin to understand the obstacles in his way. Given that he has surrounded himself with many people who have an equal lack of experience in governing, they will have to navigate as best they can. I, along with almost everybody else that I know, wish him the best of luck with that. That is my largest New Year resolution.

My biggest fear is the concept of risk that he brings with him. A business failure that translates into a tax deduction for the owner and the loss of jobs for his employees is a world apart from a failure to understand an adversary’s intentions to use nuclear weapons. Miscomprehension of the disastrousness of nuclear weapons could far too easily lead to accidentally committing global suicide.

It is true that not all presidents come equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the risks associated with being Commander in Chief and the post’s responsibility over our nuclear powers. Somehow, at least for me, Donald Trump invokes a larger degree of uncertainty than most.

In future blogs I will narrow my scope back to issues of climate change and try to avoid speculating about the President Elect’s policies, instead limiting myself to discussing his actions as they pertain to my subject. Specifically, I will continue my examination of grassroots mitigation efforts on a global scale as well as their potential collisions with top-down efforts.

In the meantime, Happy New Year, everyone!

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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4 Responses to Happy New Year 2017

  1. Kamila says:

    I agree with you we should not sit and wait to become everything perfect , we should work to become better

  2. Rafat Shhadeh says:

    I feel exactly the way you do about this presidency. So far, he has proven that he is willing to appose public and global opinions in order to carry out his plans. There are pros and cons to this. The cons tend to be obvious, and you stated some of them well. However, I feel like you didnt focus on his promise to bring back the fossil fuel industry in the United States, and since this is a climate change blog, I feel it should be discussed further. Re-building the infrastructure should include plans to fully switch us to renewable energy sources. The fact that hes a climate change denier scares me, there should not be an opinion on this matter; CLIMATE CHANGE IS A FACT. I do believe that some have the right to debate the human footprint on climate change; How large exactly is our effect on the acceleration of climate change? is a viable question, but denying it should not be the stance of our president.
    He is however

  3. rafat shhadeh says:

    I feel exactly the way you do about this presidency. So far, he has proven that he is willing to appose public and global opinions in order to carry out his plans. There are pros and cons to this. The cons tend to be obvious, and you stated some of them well. However, I feel like you didnt focus on his promise to bring back the fossil fuel industry in the United States, and since this is a climate change blog, I feel it should be discussed further. Re-building the infrastructure should include plans to fully switch us to renewable energy sources. The fact that hes a climate change denier scares me, there should not be an opinion on this matter; CLIMATE CHANGE IS A FACT. I do believe that some have the right to debate the human footprint on climate change; How large exactly is our effect on the acceleration of climate change? is a viable question, but denying it should not be the stance of our president.
    I do believe however, that his willingness to appose the status quo is very important. The United States has developed a couple of bad habits over the recent decades, and it is time to change them. He promises to “make america great again” and I believe that is a very scary statement, because it is not well defined. The greatness of a country is a very subjective idea. weather some like it or not, this is a democracy, and abusing his executive order powers will hopefully be “checked and balanced” , especially that he seems to be attacking the progress of science, which in my opinion was a major torch that led humanity out of the dark ages.

  4. Sofia says:

    Your reference to Lincoln is a really poignant metaphor for the differences in our perspectives (as in yours and Louise’s vs. mine) on our country and its policies. While it is true that this country has some of the strongest institutions and contemporary anti-discriminatory laws in the world, there have been numerous dark moments in American history. Historians often debate about the early ideals that motivated the revolutionaries to instigate coordinated revolts against British rule; some argue that it was the ideals of Enlightenment liberalism (as expressed by the likes of Locke and Montesquieu) that formed the ideological scaffold on which this country would be built. Other historians argue that it was classical republicanism that formed the country’s earliest ideals. I agree with the latter.

    Abraham Lincoln was not an abolitionist; he expressed his moral, legal, and social opposition to the institution of chattel slavery as practiced in the United States in a speech in Peoria but he admitted to not knowing how to solve the issue of slavery within the existing political system. While he did believe that the constitutional phrase “All men are created equal” applied equally to blacks and whites, he did not believe that blacks (and by extension other people of color) should have equal social and political rights as whites. In fact, Lincoln actually did argue against black suffrage until after the war, where he amended his statement and suggested that former black soldiers in the military should be allowed to vote.

    The abolitionists, on the other hand, knew exactly how to go about eliminating the institution of chattel slavery. They did not care about working within the existing political system at the time and actually believed that the Constitution protected and perpetuated an unjust system of race-based chattel slavery. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison actually claimed that because of the Fugitive Slave clause and the 3/5 clause (which stated that black slaves constituted 3/5 of a human being) were a part of the original Constitution, it was a “covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” So we have always had “radical revolutionaries” looking for a way to push the system in a more just direction. Lincoln, on the other hand, like Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay, believed that slaves should colonize other parts of the world in Africa (like Liberia) or Central America to finally get rid of the institution of slavery. It was only after the Emancipation Proclamation did he not mention the concept of black colonization ever again.

    This is a great metaphor. You guys, like Lincoln, are older and have been a part of the establishment for a very long time. You are sympathetic to social causes that promote the common good. We are not so different but because I am young, I am more sympathetic to alternative approaches to addressing societal ills and global injustices. I believe that there is a level of moral indignation and commitment to personal sacrifice that is required to address the great injustices of our time.

    You are right that we cannot just sit around and complain. What we have to do is reconcile our differences and recognize that there is wisdom in having different approaches. Not one person can make all the different that is required to help improve the human condition. It takes different approaches and different people to actually address prevailing societal ills.

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