Donald Trump’s reckless attitude towards climate change could turn our planet into a wasteland, according to renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.
Hawking, who shot to fame in the 1980s after his pop science book A Brief History of Time became an unlikely best-seller, is well-known for his dire prognostications about the future of human life on Earth.
Hawking’s favourite trope in recent years has been the necessity of space colonisation to ensure humanity’s survival in the face of inevitable existential threats, such as major asteroid impacts.
But lately he’s taken aim at a new threat to humanity: President Donald J. Trump. His comments surfaced during a recent interview with the BBC:
Hawking’s major beef with Trump has to do with climate change, unsurprisingly. As we all know by now, America’s first orange president recently announced that the country would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement, and has said in the past that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party.
For Hawking, this represents not just a minor setback, but a real danger of derailing our last chance to stop climate change. And his predictions of potential outcomes are extremely dire.
Hawking’s main concern is with the risk of a runaway effect, under which the warming atmosphere leads to increased release of greenhouse gases from the oceans and other sources — which in turn leads to more warming — which in turn releases more gas, and so on. This is what scientists called a “positive feedback loop.”
And what would be the end result of the scenario Hawking envisions? To understand how bad it could get, look to the nightmarish conditions to be found on our neighbouring planet, Venus.
There’s a reason why we always talk about colonising Mars, and never mention Venus. It’s about as inhospitable of an environment as you can imagine, with surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead, and surface pressures that would crush you instantaneously.
And what gas makes up most of the Venusian atmosphere? You guessed it: carbon dioxide. The reason Hawking points to Venus: scientists think its current atmosphere might be the end result of a runaway greenhouse gas effect of the kind Hawking is talking about, wherein increased warming led to increased release of gas, and so on in a positive feedback loop.
In Hawking’s words, “we are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulphuric acid.”
If Earth is heading down the Venusian path, that is very bad news indeed. It would mean the end not only of human civilization, but also potentially the death of all but the most hardy microbial life.
And the most powerful person in the world is willing to roll the dice on that possibility.
Is there any way we can just make Stephen Hawking president? Because unfortunately, as far as we know, there is no way to Make Venus Great Again.