IN spite of what might be judged compelling evidence, there are people out there (that loud guy glued to a stool in your local pub) who continue to argue Donald Trump is a good President. There are people who, despite the evidence, still believe Brexit is a cracking wheeze by a great bunch of lads. There are some, regardless of the evidence, who assert to this day that climate change is a fiction dreamt up by the elites to ensure ongoing subjugation of the common man.

There is, it is my sad duty to inform you, a subset of our fellow humans who hold all three views simultaneously. To save time, let’s also chuck in reactionary opinions on immigration, capital punishment, the castration of sex offenders, and babies who cry on aeroplanes. In a world full of people being wrong a lot, these are the very wrongest: they are the aristocrats of error, the barons of bull, gammon-faced ragers against reason. They should be followed around and, whenever their mouths open but before sound can emanate, be subjected to a loud approximation of that old Family Fortunes klaxon: ERRR URRRR. Quiet. Zip it. Doubleyoo doubleyoo doubleyoo dot shoosh dot com.

Of the three bad opinions outlined in my first paragraph, one matters more than the others. Donald Trump will slink off into a dotage of infamy, certainly in 2020 and probably sooner (though we must hope whatever follows is a qualitative and moral improvement, rather than just a more competent, and therefore more dangerous, facsimile). Brexit is a foolish act of self-sabotage that will make Britain poorer, less influential and meaner, but at least the sun will continue to rise each morning. Only climate change has the long-term potential to ensure that sun rises on a planet beset by misery, chaos and tragedy.

The scenes from Houston are a breathtaking display of nature’s pitiless might. On Sunday, just as Hurricane Harvey was arriving in town, the boffins at the US Government’s weather agency tweeted: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.” Holy cow. The entire Houston metropolitan area flooded, escape routes were cut off as the interstate highways disappeared under rising waters, and local boat owners were asked to join rescue efforts as distressing images emerged of the elderly and infirm up to their chests in the grim tide. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed or ruined, while Harvey disabled almost 15 per cent of America’s refinery capacity.

Now, it’s the season in the US when hurricanes are going to do their thing. But scientists say the ferocity of Harvey and its like has been intensified by man-made climate change. As our air warms, heat is absorbed by the seas and oceans, so raising the temperature of their upper layers. As the storm closed in on Houston, it gathered strength from surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico that were as much as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit above average, progressing from a tropical depression (bad, but manageable) to a category-four hurricane (catastrophic) in 48 hours.

“The human contribution can be up to 30 per cent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm,” Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, told the Washington Post. “It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway – but [man-made climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”

Two weeks after Mr Trump’s election, the President-elect created a small “landing team” charged with establishing beachheads in the various government departments. The man tasked with this role at the Department of Energy – which is responsible, among other things, for America’s nuclear arsenal and its response to climate change – was Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, a lobby group that had received millions of dollars from oil giants ExxonMobil and Koch Industries. According to Vanity Fair journalist Michael Lewis, Mr Pyle had previously written articles attacking the DoE’s efforts to reduce America’s carbon footprint. This charming envoy immediately asked officials for a list of all employees who had attended meetings about climate change over the past five years. “[A] signal had been sent: We don’t want you to help us understand; we want to find out who you are and punish you,” writes Lewis.

Mr Trump’s budget for the DoE eliminated funding for all sorts of vital programmes, including all research on climate change. He also withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement, aimed at limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Barack Obama had pledged to reduce America’s emissions by 26–28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2025.

This is what it’s like to live in a world run by those who have had enough of experts. Science and deep study have their flaws, and produce plenty of mistakes, but the process is ultimately self-correcting due to relentless inquisition and the discipline of open minds. The alternative, a society motored by ignorance, ideology and self-interest, is a dark prospect indeed: Mr Trump’s presidency is providing us with an HD view of the abyss. As Lewis writes, “Trump’s budget, like the social forces behind it, is powered by a perverse desire – to remain ignorant. Trump didn’t invent this desire. He is just its ultimate expression.”

The howling democratic storms currently raging around us have at their core a clash of values – closed vs open, those who dislike difference against those who embrace it, those who have a rooted, localised identity vs those who do not feel they need one, ignorance and fear vs education and tolerance. After decades of liberal progress – progress that has made the world richer, healthier and safer – we are witnessing an angry backlash from those who have found the journey a discomfiting experience, and the rise of greasy opportunists intent on making the most of it.

It is not arrogant to say it is essential that open and tolerant win. It is a statement of fact. On the day Mr Trump announced the Paris withdrawal, the governors of New York, California and Washington state, which represent 68 million Americans and more than one-fifth of US GDP, announced they were forming a coalition to carry on regardless. Private companies, cities, researchers and others are supporting and collaborating with one another to reach ambitious goals in reducing or eliminating their carbon use over the next few years. Ignorance be damned.

The same spirit is needed on other fronts. We can’t ignore those who think differently, but neither can we lose heart. We must weaponise our values, deploy evidence, reason and community (in its largest sense) action in order to persuade, or at least persuade enough of them. Let the barons of bull rant and roar in their lonely citadels, and the attention-seeking clowns jig in the growing wind. There’s a job to be done, and only grown-ups need apply.