Trump's Rejection of National Climate Report Would Do More Harm Than Paris Exit
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 U.S. 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.
Leaked Government Report Sounds Alarm on Climate Change Before Trump Could Suppress It https://t.co/Jm0z0UcdZ2 @Reportingclimat @ukycc— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502316615.0
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 U.S. 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.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has called for.
Trump has already refused to accept high-confidence conclusions from 17 intelligence agencies across 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.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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