In Parting Blow to Climate Science, Trump Admin Removes Expert in Charge of National Climate Assessment
The National Climate Assessment, which is released every four years, combines the expertise of 13 federal agencies along with independent scientists, The New York Times explained. The last assessment, released in 2018, said unequivocally that the impacts of climate change were already being felt in the U.S. and would get worse if nothing was done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump administration tried to bury the report by releasing it Thanksgiving weekend, and President Donald Trump claimed that he did not believe it. Now, there is concern the administration is trying to influence the findings of the next assessment.
"Even in their final days, they are continuing to attempt to bury the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change," Union of Concerned Scientists senior climate scientist Rachel Licker told The New York Times.
The administration on Friday reassigned Michael Kuperberg, a climate scientist who runs the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which produces the report. The move was confirmed to The Washington Post by one current federal official and one former White House official, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. Don Wuebbles, a University of Illinois climate scientist and friend of Kuperberg's, who directed the Fourth National Climate Assessment, also confirmed the news.
"Mike called me on Saturday and said he was just notified that he was let go, that his detail was over and that he should go back to the Department of Energy," Wuebbles told The Washington Post.
Kuperberg had led USGCRP since 2015 and had expected to continue to oversee the completion of the Fifth National Climate Assessment. Two people close to the administration told The New York Times he would likely be replaced by David Legates, a new appointment to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who has worked with climate denying groups and argued that carbon dioxide is "plant food and not a pollutant."
"It might be a short-term appointment," Competitive Enterprise Institute Director and former member of Trump's transition team Myron Ebell, who approves of Legates' appointment, told The New York Times. "If he only directs it for two months and a week, then he may not get very far, but let's see what can get done in two months. Maybe the next administration will throw it all away, but maybe some changes will be adopted, who knows."
One concern is that, if Biden replaces Trump's new appointment, it could further delay the next climate assessment, which was due in 2022 but has been pushed back to 2023. The new appointee could also influence the writers of the report, POLITICO pointed out. Nominations for report authors are due Nov. 14, and the new USGCRP head could select people who deny mainstream climate science. However, a mainstream U.S. Geological Survey climate scientist named Betsy Weatherhead has been put in charge of coordinating the assessment itself, according to The Washington Post.
"I would be more concerned if Trump had won the election," Kathy Jacobs, who ran the Third National Climate Assessment and now directs the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona, told The Washington Post. "If USGCRP is rudderless for a few months, I don't consider that a devastating situation. The question is: What are they going to do in the interim?"
- 'I Don't Believe It': Trump Rejects U.S. Government Climate Report ... ›
- Trump Disbands Climate Advisory Panel - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. to Release Damning Climate Report as Trump Ignores Science ... ›
- What's in the Climate Report the Trump Administration Doesn't Want ... ›
- Trump Administration Is Restricting How Scientists Conduct Climate ... ›
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›