The Conversation / EcoWatch.org & CREDO Action – 2017-08-21 20:16:07
Trump’s Rejection of National Climate Report
Would Do More Harm Than Paris Exit
The Conversation / EcoWatch.org
A scientific report done every four years has been thrust into the spotlight because its findings directly contradict statements from the president and various cabinet officials.
If the Trump administration chooses to reject the pending national Climate Science Special Report, it would be more damaging than pulling the US out of the Paris agreement. Full stop. This is a bold claim, but as an economist and scientist who was a vice chair of the committee that shepherded the last national climate assessment report to its completion, I can explain why this is the case.
Informing Policy with Facts
To see why the Climate Science Special Report is so important, first consider some historical context.
In 1990, Congress mandated that government scientists prepare and transmit a report to the president and the Congress every four years that “integrates, evaluates, and interprets” findings of the US Global Change Research Program.
It must characterize the “effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems and biological diversity.” It also calls for scientists to project climate trends decades into the future.
The upcoming Climate Science Special Report, upon which the administration must bestow either its approval or its rejection sometime in the near future, is the first major component of the Fourth National Climate Assessment.
Combined with a second section that will analyze climate change’s impacts on different regions and sectors of the economy, it must, by law, be submitted in some form to Congress and the public by the end of 2017.
The previous assessment was released to the public by President Obama in a Rose Garden ceremony on May 6, 2014.
Takeaways from Climate Science Special Report
Findings and (Confidence Statements)
1. It’s hot out there. Temperatures are rising every year, especially in the West, the Southwest and the Northwest. (High to unequivocal)
2. Wetter hurricanes in the East. More rainfall per event. Increases in intensity and frequency are expected with medium confidence. (High confidence)
3. Bad news for California. Reduced snowpack portend hydrological droughts. (Very high confidence)
4. When it rains, it pours more. High rates of precipitation in heavy storms. (Very high confidence)
5. Flooding related to sea-level rise is a problem already. Highlights Miami, Norfolk, VA, San Francisco and Charleston, SC. (Very high confidence)
6. Some areas will suffer more from rising seas. Higher sea-level rise in the Northeast and along the Gulf of Mexico. (Very high confidence)
7. El Nino isn’t forever. El Nino can influence temperature and precipitation for years, but has little explanatory power for the long-term trend. (Very high confidence)
8. Humans are to blame. Emissions of heat trapping gases from human activity cause the warming. (Very high confidence)
9. Be ready for surprises in the future. Humans are conducting an unprecedented experiment with their only planet. (Very high confidence)
10. Advances in “adaptation science”. Findings can now be reported with higher confidence in laying the blame on human activity. (Statement of fact)
11. It is not too late to act. Adaptation and emissions reductions can ameliorate the risks. (Very high confidence)
Source: US Global Change Research Program; Gary Yohe
So, what does the latest Climate Science Special Report say? On the basis of new and stronger science, it extends, confirms and elaborates conclusions on climate risks reported in the third National Climate Assessment nearly four years ago.
The forthcoming National Climate Assessment is now more secure in its core findings and includes two new important developments: advances in what is called attribution science and the importance of using this new information to implement effective adaptation.
The draft report shows that scientists can more accurately describe the degree to which we can attribute growing climate change risks to human activity. The net effect is that scientists can more confidently attribute the role global warming has played in events such as floods or heat waves.
The report also reconfirms that it is not too late for Americans to respond to growing climate change risks. This was a major conclusion of the NCA3, but it is worthy of repeating. Put quite simply, it assures Americans that we can work individually and together to reduce our carbon footprint and to adapt to the dangers of climate change, both observed and projected.
State and City Action on Paris
So why would rejecting the forthcoming CSSR be more damaging to public health and welfare across the country than withdrawing from the Paris agreement?
The reason lies in the crucial difference between the two: the Paris agreement focuses on reducing emissions, while the Climate Science Special Report is designed to help the US better adapt to the effects of climate change even as it underscores the importance of cutting emissions.
We, like many other nations, were “leading from behind” when we helped 196 nations achieve and accept the Paris agreement in 2015.
China was already reducing its carbon emissions significantly as a co-benefit to reducing conventional air pollution. States like California and the entire New England region had already implemented cap and trade programs to do the same.
Meanwhile, cities like New York and Los Angeles were similarly committing their own scarce resources to reduce emissions and adopt adaptation plans. Corporations across the country are changing their business plans to reduce their emissions and to protect their bottom-line resilience.
The message of all this decentralized action is clear: The emissions reduction train had, by Nov. 4, 2016 when the Paris agreement came into force, already left the station. Leaving the Paris agreement was a bad idea, but it was not going to call the train back.
By contrast, the NCA4 includes vital information that will help policymakers and society at large to adapt more securely to the effects of a dynamic climate. The previous national climate assessment report did exactly that, providing not only data on how climate change is affecting the US now, broken down by region and industry, but also stronger foundations for designing effective adaptive strategies.
A New York Times article recently noted that some scientists involved in the climate report are concerned about what the administration will do.
A decision to reject the report would, of course, diminish the credibility of hundreds of government scientists who have worked the climate problem for decades. The CSSR is the product of exactly the “peer-reviewed and objectively reviewed methodology and evaluation” that the US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has called for.
Trump has already refused to accept high-confidence conclusions from 17 intelligence agenciesacross the federal government, which makes it makes it more difficult to make progress in protecting our next national election from cyberattacks.
Similarly, rejecting the high-confidence findings from the 13 federal agencies whose scientists contributed to the Climate Science Special Report would make it much more difficult for Americans to protect themselves from existing and projected climate risks in a number of ways.
* It would make it easier for Congress to dismiss any proposed legislation that takes climate change risk into account.
* It would make it easier to continue to deny any consideration of climate risk in any of the departments and agencies where the very mention of climate change is now forbidden. It would, for instance, make it easier for states like North Carolina to “outlaw” any mention of sea level rise in any public discourse despite catastrophic flooding along the Outer Banks and in-land lowlands.
* It would make it easier for shareholders of major corporations to demand that their CEOs save money in the short run by ignoring material climate risk to the longer-view bottom line.
Putting People in Harm’s Way
As such, President Trump’s rejection of the 2018 Climate Science Special Report would unnecessarily place American citizens in harm’s way in every corner of the country. Studies have shown that hundreds of people and billions of dollars would be lost over the coming years if emissions continue unabated.
I know that his supporters and climate skeptics would call that statement hyperbole, but I believe that it is not. People will die if the president rejects the upcoming Climate Science Special Report because they will not be protected. Nobody can identify exactly who and when, but it is possible to describe many of them with incredible precision.
The dead will be drawn randomly across all 50 states from populations of poor, elderly and/or very young Americans who live close to rivers, streams, oceans or lakes in regions that are already prone to extreme weather events, intense summer heat and newly observed vector-borne diseases.
By dismissing the best available climate science, the administration will slow or reverse the country’s efforts to adapt to the dangerous effects of climate change, such as these.
Rejection of this report would thereby be an abdication of the president’s constitutional responsibility to “provide for the public’s defense” and “promote the general welfare” of every American.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
ACTION ALERT: Trump Targets 50 Climate Scientists
PETITION: Tell the inspector general of the Department of the Interior: Investigate the censoring of government scientists and experts
The petition to the inspector general of the Department of the Interior reads:
“Censoring experts for doing their jobs is an abuse of authority. Launch an investigation into Interior Department Secretary Zinke’s arbitrary reassignment of Joel Clement and 50 other senior officials and scientists.”
Joel Clement is one of about 50 scientists and senior officials quietly removed from their posts at the Department of the Interior in July. He believes he was punished for speaking out about the climate risks facing Alaska Native villages.
Censoring scientists will not solve the climate crisis â€“ but Donald Trump is much more interested in covering it up. Banned from doing his job, Clement filed a whistleblower complaint and called for an investigation.1
Before he was demoted, Clement coordinated the federal response to Alaska Native communities threatened by climate change. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, these communities are located on melting permafrost.2 A major storm could flood them away entirely or cause major loss of life.
Clement was helping these communities prepare. Some want to relocate now, and others need emergency evacuation plans. Now the federal government has abandoned them, and as Clement points out, they are not the only Americans at risk:
“Right now Alaska Native villages are on the front lines, but every coastal city, the deserts of the Southwest, the farms of the Midwest that are getting these frequent and almost biblical deluges, these are direct impacts on the health and safety of Americans and our economic prosperity.”3
Systematically eliminating the government’s expertise on climate change is not only foolish, it is dangerously irresponsible. As temperatures increase, so will the dangerous impacts of climate change â€“ flooding, catastrophic storms, heat waves and droughts. We need our scientists to help us understand how to prevent and respond to these threats.
Unfortunately, helping out oil and coal companies is a far bigger priority for federal agencies under Trump’s authority. Instead of helping us prepare, they are retaliating against anyone who acknowledges the risks we face.
Joel Clement’s story is part of a broader pattern. Trump has appointed anti-science ideologues and industry lobbyists to key agency roles, revoked environmental safety regulations, removed climate information from government websites, censored scientists from speaking up and reduced public access to data. This administration is at war with reality, and our future will be the casualty.4
Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke actually admitted that reassignments are part of his plan to downsize â€“ in other words, he hopes that staff will resign because of their new jobs.5 Trump’s government is intentionally pushing out senior scientists and officials by making their jobs intolerable.
Fortunately, federal employees like Joel Clement who speak up about health and safety risks are protected under whistleblower laws. While his complaint is being investigated, he has no intention of going anywhere.
And now, eight Democratic senators have called for an investigation into Zinke’s decision to reassign Clement and other officials.6 If we join them, we can add pressure and publicity to Clement’s case, making it harder for the Trump administration to quietly sweep scientists under the rug.
ACTION: Tell the inspector general of the Department of the Interior: Investigate the reassignment of top officials and scientists. Click here to sign the petition.
Brandy Doyle is the Campaign Manager for CREDO Action from Working Assets
1. Joel Clement, “I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration.” The Washington Post, July 19, 2017.
3. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, “Meet the senior federal official blowing the whistle on Trump’s suppression of climate science,” Democracy Now!, Aug. 8, 2017.
4. Jacob Carter, et al., “Sidelining science since day one: how the Trump administration has harmed public health and safety in its first six months,” Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, July 2017.
5. Lisa Rein, “Interior chief wants to shed 4,000 employees in department shake-up,” The Washington Post, June 21, 2017.
6. Juliet Eilperin, “Senate Democrats call for an investigation of climate scientist whistleblower complaint,” The Washington Post, July 24, 2017.
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