What Did Stephen Hawking Mean When He Said Trump Could Turn Earth Into Venus?

Professor Hawking, pictured here in 2016 in New York City. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Robin Andrews 03 Jul 2017, 16:18

Stephen Hawking is clearly not a fan of President Trump. Over the last few weeks and months, he’s been particularly aggrieved by the White House’s decision to leave the Paris climate change agreement.

Previously, he’s referred to this as the “most serious and wrong decision this world has seen” on climate change. Now, speaking to BBC News, he claimed that Trump’s actions could turn Earth into Venus.

“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 two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulfuric acid,” he told BBC News as part of a series of programs revolving around his 75th birthday.

So what does he mean by this? Well, it’s all about water. The oceans are the planet’s greatest carbon sink, more so than the atmosphere. Without them, the Earth right now would have warmed 36°C (64.8°F) in the past century, rather than just 1°C (1.8°F).

Hawking on Trump. BBC News via YouTube

Long ago, Venus would have likely been covered in some water, but not enough to absorb the masses of carbon dioxide being emitted by its overactive volcanoes. Most of the powerful greenhouse gas went into the atmosphere instead, and warmed the planet so much that all its water evaporated. The carbon dioxide continued to accumulate, leading to a runaway greenhouse effect.

This produced the Venus we know today, one whose incredibly thick atmosphere puts so much pressure on the surface that it’d effectively crush a human to death within seconds of landing on it. In effect, that is what Hawking is referring to here. It’s a tad dramatic, of course, but the science checks out in the (extremely) long run.

“Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it's one we can prevent if we act now,” Hawking added.

“By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children.”

Hawking is getting a bit of a reputation for doom and gloom these days, but he’s not incorrect here. If the world gives up on climate change prevention the world will be full of nightmares in just a generation or two.

There is, however, hope. Twelve American states have vowed to uphold the Paris climate agreement, and are forging new climate deals with the rest of the world. Speaking of which, the entire planet was indeed incensed by Trump's announcement, but they’ve moved on already and are already doubling-down on their efforts.

So despite Trump’s actions, the world will probably not turn into a new Venus after all.

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