WASHINGTON – As President Donald Trump along with much of the rest of Washington takes time off (whether or not the president wants to call it a vacation), a mid-August deadline is quickly approaching for the release of a far-reaching climate change report undertaken by 13 federal agencies.
The conclusions of the assessment, as first reported by The New York Times, are unsurprisingly not in line with the views of Trump and many of his Cabinet officials. The Washington Post obtained a draft of the assessment, called the Climate Science Special Report, as well.
Here’s what you need to know about this major study:
– Its findings on the consequences of climate change are dire, and humans are to blame. Among the top-line conclusions of the report are the determination that it is “extremely likely” that more than half of the rise in temperatures over the past four decades has been caused by human activity. The receding Arctic ice and an increase in the acidification of the oceans is “unparalleled in at least the past 66 million years.” Even if society immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases, the world temperature is still predicted to rise an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit by about 2100. Recent record-setting years of temperature highs will become “relatively common.”
– The conclusions may be shocking, but they are not surprising. Like the assessment reports issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the federal government’s Climate Science Special Report is a “study of studies” – that is, it is a congressionally mandated overview of developments in climate science over the past four years.
Or as Gizmodo science editor Maddie Stone put it via Twitter: “Reading the leaked nat’l climate assessment. no big surprises, but lots of chilling observations about warming targets we’re likely to pass.”
Scientists said they feared the report would be suppressed, but drafts of it are already public. Unnamed scientists told The Times that “they fear the Trump administration could change or suppress the report.” Indeed, final publication requires the signoff of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who has said that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.
The Trump administration must decide by Aug. 18 whether to release the report. But there was already lots of chatter and reaction to the drafts, which were public as it was being formulated:
Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech and one of the lead authors of the report: “Important to point out that this report was already accessible to anyone who cared to read it during public review & comment time. Few did,” she posted on Twitter.
Bob Kopp, another climate scientist at Rutgers: “It’s not clear what the news is in this story; posted draft is public review draft from Dec, and WH review hasn’t yet missed Aug 18 deadline.”
John H. Cushman, Jr., a reporter for InsideClimate News who wrote about an earlier draft of the assessment in December: “I’m not sure whether this draft report is the one that was circulated for comment in December, or whether it reflects NAS April comments.”
He added: “Still, its findings unedited by deniers in administration are important.”
Similar climate assessments from the U.S. government have fallen victim to political pressure in the past. For example, in 2002, a George W. Bush administration official named Philip Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty about the findings of a summary report called “Our Changing Planet.” For example, he added the word “extremely” to this sentence from that report: “The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult.”
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— Time to get out the Taboo buzzer: Staff members at the Agriculture Department have been advised to avoid using the term “climate change,” according to emails obtained by The Guardian.
“Climate change” appears under a list of terms to avoid, via an email from the director of soil health. Bianca Moebius-Clune suggested some USDA-approved alternative terms to use instead:
“Climate change” – “weather extremes”
“Climate change adaptation– “resilience to weather extremes/intense weather events: drought, heavy rain, spring ponding”
“Reduce greenhouse gases” – “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”
“Sequester carbon” – “build soil organic matter”
The Guardian also outlines back-and-forth emails from members of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service unit attempting to clarify approved language. In one April email, an employee asked whether they were allowed to publish work from outside the USDA that referred to ‘climate change.'”
If the intended effect was to curtail discussion of climate change, the USDA’s decision backfired spectacularly. Here’s the front page of The Guardian this morning:
— It’s official: Trump notified the United Nations on Monday that the United States will pull out of the Paris climate agreement. In issuing its notice, the State Department left the tiniest crack of a door open to reentry into the global agreement to reduce emissions. Trump “is open to re-engaging in the Paris Agreement if the U.S. can identify terms that are more favorable to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, and its taxpayers,” the department said.
Under the accord, the United States’s participation will only be official in November 2020, the month of the next presidential election.
— Border wall vs. butterflies: Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico wall may cut through parts of a wildlife refuge in Texas, including the National Butterfly Center in Mission. The executive director of the butterfly center says she found out about the effort by discovering workers that were taking soil samples before planning to mow through the land, The Post’s Darryl Fears reported.
“I said, ‘Hey guys what you’re doing?’ They said, ‘Working.’ I said, ‘On what?’ They said, ‘Clearing the land,” recalled Marianna Trevino Wright. “I said, ‘You mean my land.’ They said, ‘We’re going to have to call our supervisor.'”
The Texas Observer also reported that the founder of the butterfly center said the Trump administration is choosing to “ignore the law, trampling on private property rights” by not notifying the center about the plans to build the wall through the property.
Fears reported that the land is currently being cleared and soil is being sampled, though no construction on the wall would begin until Congress approved funding it. The fate for that funding is unclear.
–Monumental update: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Friday that he won’t recommend eliminating or making changes to Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
“The land has some of the most pristine and undeformed geological formations in North America, which show the scientific history of our earth while containing thousands of years of human relics and fossils,” Zinke said in a Friday statement.
It’s the latest announcement in the department’s ongoing review of the status of 27 national monuments designated by previous presidents following an executive order from President Trump.