Trump admin report clearly shows humans changing climate

Source: Scott Waldman, E&E News rep • Posted: Monday, November 6, 2017

The most comprehensive survey of climate science to come out of the Trump administration, released today, finds that humans are transforming the world at an unprecedented pace through the burning of fossil fuels.

That’s basic climate science, and long established by those in the field. Still, no one expects the latest update to the National Climate Assessment to sway the administration, since most of its key findings are not new and have been rejected by many top officials, including the president himself.

The congressionally mandated report finds that temperatures have warmed by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 115 years, the warmest period in the history of modern civilization.

For a government document backed by dozens of detailed scientific studies, the assessment is blunt in stating humans are the primary drivers of climate change. It comes as world leaders gather in Bonn, Germany, to discuss mitigation strategies that will head off some of the most dire climate change effects.

“This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the assessment concludes. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

Today’s release included two volumes of the National Climate Assessment and a draft of the State of the Carbon Cycle Report and was produced by more than two dozen leading climate scientists. It links human activity to ocean acidification, shrinking sea ice and rising sea levels. Global average sea level has risen by about 7 to 8 inches in the last century, with 3 inches coming just the last 25 years.

Twenty-five Atlantic and Gulf Coast cities are experiencing daily tidal flooding, according to its findings. The rate of rise could have devastating consequences by the end of the century, as sea levels are expected to rise at least a foot and, at the upper end of estimates, by as much as 8 feet.

It paints a stark image of the greenhouse gases now accumulating in the atmosphere and driving the warming of the planet, stating that “there is no climate analog for this century at any time in at least the last 50 million years.” Extreme weather is becoming more severe and more common, according to the report.

Critics and environmentalists were concerned that the administration would seek to stifle the reports, which are required under a 1990 law that both Democratic and Republican administrations have followed. Instead, largely ignoring the findings seems a far more likely outcome for policymakers.

The White House responded to the report by repeating a favorite talking point of those who doubt climate science. The climate “has changed and is always changing,” said Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah. He pointed to half a sentence in the report that acknowledges uncertainty in how sensitive the climate is to greenhouse gas emissions and touted the reduction of carbon dioxide in the U.S., which is largely driven by a switch from coal to natural gas.

“The Administration supports rigorous scientific analysis and debate and encourages public comment on the draft documents being released today,” he said in a statement. “To address climate change as well as other risks, the U.S. will continue to promote access to the affordable and reliable energy needed to grow economically, and to support technology, innovation and the development of modern and efficient infrastructure that will reduce emissions and enable us to address future risks, including climate related risks.”

President Trump set off on a trip to Asia today instead of heading to Germany, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt plans to head to a chemical industry conference at a South Carolina resort (see related story). The Trump administration is sending a delegation to Germany to speak on the benefits of fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

But there was no political interference in the scientific findings of the report, said David Fahey, the report’s lead author and director of the Chemical Sciences Division at NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory. He said there was substantial interaction between the report’s authors, the White House and the 13 government agencies that responded to it.

“The word ‘interference’ might have been a threat, but it never materialized that this report says what the scientists wanted to say, even down to the confidence and the likelihood statements, so in that sense, it’s an excellent example of an open scientific assessment,” he said.

The report was focused solely on scientific findings and not on policy suggestions, the report’s authors said. Fahey said the report clearly states that anyone who claims there is uncertainty in the science around whether humans are the primary drivers of climate change is wrong.

Researchers from NOAA, NASA and the Department of Energy contributed to its findings. None of the men selected to head those agencies during the Trump era is a scientist, though they were headed by professional scientists in the past. What’s more, virtually all the leaders of the key agencies that produced the report, along with Trump’s EPA administrator, have joined the president in rejecting basic climate science. The report lays bare the claims of politicians who say there are uncertainties in the science.

But their likely reception of the reports may follow along the lines of a former Obama administration official who called it “deceptive” in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal. Steve Koonin, a New York University physicist and former undersecretary for Energy who Pruitt frequently cites as a reason to conduct a comprehensive review of climate science through a “red team, blue team” process, focused his critique of a report on the uncertainties it lays out, such as the rate of sea-level rise.

Koonin acknowledged that much of the report is right but claimed it was misleading in a few places.

“It reinforces alarm with incomplete information and highlights the need for more-rigorous review of climate assessments,” he wrote.

In fact, the researchers acknowledge the uncertainties and said they should be used as a road map for where to focus scientific research in the future. For instance, Fahey said the modeling used to make future climate projections is still evolving and needs to improve, something with which most climate modelers would agree. As a result, there is a wide range of results for some findings, such as the possible sea-level rise, with the higher end of the scenarios being eight times greater than the less likely scenarios. In addition, the uncertainties are further driven by whether humans will take significant action to lower emissions.

“The reason these are in this list is because they do have serious impacts, and if there were any chance of some of these things happening, we would definitely want to know, and there is definitely some chance of these things happening,” he said.

Environmental groups said the report was a clear indication that the administration must stop denying science and instead craft policy that addresses the risks to humanity laid out by the latest findings.

“The National Climate Assessment is only further proof that the Trump administration can no longer attempt to misrepresent climate science of the country’s highest caliber as ‘fake news,'” said Ken Berlin, president and CEO of the Climate Reality Project. “The American people deserve to know the truth about the reality staring us square in the face, and I urge the Trump administration to seriously consider scientists’ findings and the input of the American people.”

Reporter Hannah Northey contributed.