Opinion: Some predictions for the coming year

After 2016’s wild ride in politics, science, sports, and entertainment, no one in their right mind would dare venture predictions for 2017. Here goes.

  1. This is easy. A total eclipse of the sun will occur on Aug. 21, when the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth. Lawrence will be on the geographic 50-yard line for this pre-season No-Sun Bowl (see No. 5 below).
  2. About half the U.S. population will deliberately avoid using the word “trump” — as in, “Climate-change denial in Congress continues to trump science, reason and evidence.” People will rush to the thesaurus for synonyms: beat, eclipse, override. Similarly, “bush” was bushwhacked for eight years.
  3. Science deniers on Capitol Hill will stick to their spiel that climate change is a hoax. Some will cite Julian Assange in blaming the Chinese for hacking the computers and data banks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the Department of Energy, the Democratic National Committee and Al Gore’s house. Others will blame a global science-internet conspiracy led by Meryl Streep. Trumping these denials is an article by Francis Molena in the March 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics (page 339): The effects of the combustion of coal on the climate. “Since burning coal produces carbon dioxide it may be inquired whether the enormous use of that fuel in modern times may not be an important factor in filling the atmosphere … indirectly raising the temperature of the earth.” It’s 1912. Molena might have been influenced by film star Mary Pickford, but not Meryl Streep. He also couldn’t have been part of a worldwide science conspiracy — no internet, no computers, no analytical models to smear. Molena just used solid empirical reasoning and solid data to connect the dots. He tied CO2 to global warming with two facts: 500 million tons of coal were mined for fuel in 1911; and above normal temperatures for 11 out of the 12 months that year. What would Molena’s facts be today? Billions of tons of coal mined during the past 140 years, hitting a peak of 1.2 billion in 2008. During the same time, a dramatic spike in atmospheric CO2 and increasingly hotter average global temperatures. 2016 was the hottest yet. Then there’s ice sheets melting, glaciers disappearing, Arctic ice cover shrinking, seas warming, coastlines rising, oceans acidifying, birds breeding earlier, plants blooming earlier.
  4. Secretary-elect Rick Perry, nominated to lead the Department of Energ, will mysteriously be AWOL from work until the August eclipse. Why? He forgot the name of the agency he was supposed to head. For Perry, this is a case of “deja adieu,” bid memory goodbye — again. His first DOE lapse was during the 2012 Republican debates, when he vowed to shut down three federal agencies as president — “Education, Commerce, and … and … can’t remember the third.” In his absence, DOE scientists continue working on climate-change research.
  5. In sports, it’s heartening that the number of college bowl games has kept pace with the rise in global temperature and CO2 concentration. There were five bowl games in the 1930s, 12 by the 1970s, 21 by 2000, 35 by 2010 and 41 by the 2016-2017 season, counting the championship game. With few exceptions, bowl games were once reserved for the best teams — champions of their conference; those with an overwhelming winning record. No more. If the NCAA is good at anything, it’s math. Forty-one bowls means 82 teams–too many for each to have a winning record. So, the NCAA lowered the bowl-eligible bar–first in 2010, to teams with as many wins as losses; then, in 2012, to teams with, yes, losing records. A quarter of the 80 teams in the current bowl season didn’t have a winning record. Hey, it could get worse. Nine more bowl games, including the as yet unnamed Dubai Bowl, are in the NCAA hopper for approval. So, 50 bowl games next season with 100 teams, some, likely, with only one win. Well, as long as they won it for the Gipper.

— Leonard Krishtalka is director of the Biodiversity Institute and a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas.