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Issue #1793      September 6, 2017

Climate truth Trump rejects

What do federal scientists do when the presidential administration ignores – and actively works against – their climate research? They leak a draft copy of their study before President Trump can hide the results. In an era where the threat of climate change is downplayed or utterly denied, the report is a sobering reminder that it is a very real danger, and had it not been leaked on August 7 to The New York Times, it might not have reached the public.

Though the report itself does not contain wholly new information, its release is important in that it shows that scientists will not let themselves be silenced by climate deniers. One would be remiss, however, in assuming that the report itself is not significant. On the contrary, it confirms that human activity is increasing temperatures worldwide, and that the end result could be catastrophic, according to the scientists from 13 federal agencies who penned the study.

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the report declared. “Thousands of studies conducted by tens of thousands of scientists around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and an increase in atmospheric water vapour. Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities are now the dominant cause of the observed changes in the climate.”

The information provided is heightened in importance not only because the effects of climate change are worsening every day, but because President Trump’s position on the issue is at odds with that of nearly every other county on the planet, most of which are part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Trump remarked that the Paris accord had “no tangible benefit,” despite its goal of capping global warming at no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course, one must remember that Trump has employed a man who is focused on actively preventing curbs in emissions. Indeed, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Scott Pruitt’s regulatory moves are based on the utter rejection of established science. Those moves strive not to reinforce clean energy, but to undercut it outright through the pursuit of drilling and mining on federal lands, along with other activities that champion fossil fuels and dispense with efforts to help the planet.

With those kinds of activities running rampant in this presidential administration, the scientists who authored the report found it unlikely that it would have been published in a way that was not altered, with vital information being suppressed. Even now, after the leak, it remains to be seen how Trump will process the report in an official capacity – if at all. But because the National Climate Assessment, which this report is part of, is legally mandated, the Trump administration could face lawsuits if the President decides to go that route.

While Trump denounces climate change as “a total con job,” this report delivers the science-based facts, free of political manipulation or censorship. One of those facts is that even if the output of heat-trapping gases were to stop tomorrow, the world would warm another half degree. Stanford University scientist Chris Field, who reviewed the report for the National Academy of Sciences, said that even a few tenths of a degree in warming can have a serious impact on human civilisation and the environment, noting that “every increment in warming is an increment in risk.”

The report goes on to predict that there is more extreme weather to come, noting that the average annual temperature in the US will continue to rise. This means that the record-breaking heat waves states have seen in recent years will become “relatively common” quite soon. But the severe and unbalanced weather effects will vary by area; parts of the West, Southwest, and Southeast will get drier, while the Southern Plains and the Midwest will become wetter, experiencing harsher storms and more frequent rainfall. Meanwhile, the scientists wrote, the surface and air temperatures in Alaska and the Arctic are rising at an alarming rate – twice as quickly as the global average – and are expected to keep doing so.

“It is very likely that the accelerated rate of Arctic warming will have a significant consequence for the United States, due to accelerated land and sea ice melting that is driving changes in the ocean, including sea rise threatening our coastal communities,” the report said.

The science laid out by the report is now available for all to read. It officially ties global warming to severe weather events and firmly establishes that the impact of climate change is not prospective, but currently happening. What remains to be seen is whether the White House will accept the facts presented and correct its regressive environmental policies.

“The current situation will provide an acid test of whether the Trump administration is open to hearing the scientific truth about climate change,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University. “Or is the administration so much in the thrall of fossil fuel interests that they are fixated on hiding the reality from the public?”

People’s World

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