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Stephen Hawking in "Into the Universe" on Discovery Channel
British physicist Stephen Hawking delved into the mysteries of the solar system and beyond in a Discovery Channel series titled “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking.” (Credit: Discovery Channel)

An open letter from 375 scientists is voicing concern about GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s views on climate change – and urging the United States not to cancel its commitment to last year’s Paris climate agreement, as Trump has said he would do.

Among the signers of the letter published today are British physicist Stephen Hawking, billionaire philanthropist James Simons, 30 Nobel laureates and nine University of Washington professors.

The Paris pact was adopted by the United States and more than 190 other nations last December, and formally ratified by President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping this month. It lays out commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and keep average global temperatures from rising by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).

 

Because the agreement is considered an add-on to the 1992 Rio climate treaty and other protocols, the White House says Senate action isn’t technically required for the Paris pact to take effect. It will enter into force once enough nations submit their ratification – which could come by the end of the year.

However, opponents in Congress say they’ll try to block funding for programs that support the pact. In May, Trump told a campaign rally that he’d “cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.”

Trump has also called climate change a “total, and very expensive, hoax.”

Such comments prompted the scientists to issue their letter. “Human-caused climate change is not a belief, a hoax, or a conspiracy,” they wrote. “It is a physical reality.”

They said Trump’s advocacy of a withdrawal from the Paris pact was “of great concern”:

“A ‘Parexit’ would send a clear signal to the rest of the world: ‘The United States does not care about the global problem of human-caused climate change. You are on your own.’ Such a decision would make it far more difficult to develop effective global strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change. The consequences of opting out of the global community would be severe and long-lasting – for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.”

The signers are all members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, but they’re not all U.S. citizens or climate scientists. For example, the list includes Hawking (a theoretical physicist from Britain) as well as Michel Mayor (an exoplanet hunter from Switzerland).

Hawking has previously spoken out about the perils posed by Earth’s changing climate. During an interview in May, he said runaway climate change was “a more immediate danger” than a catastrophic asteroid impact. (That was also the interview in which he called Trump “a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”)

The signers from the UW run the scientific gamut, including biochemist (and Nobel laureate) Edmond Fischer, biochemist Earl Davie, geneticists Joseph Felsenstein and Richard Palmiter, microbiologist Eugene Nester, oceanographer Peter Rhines, biologist Lynn Riddiford, atmospheric scientists Dennis Hartmann and John Wallace. Davie, Fischer, Nester and Wallace are professors emeritus.

The letter was released on the same day that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that last month’s average global temperature was 61.74 degrees F, which is 1.66 degrees above the 20th-century average for August. That marked the 16th consecutive month of record-breaking heat, based on 137 years of record-keeping.

Last week, NASA reported similarly high temperatures for August.

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