State-of-science Report on Climate Change Starkly Contradicts White House Positions

Critique of report finds it convincing: Climate change is accelerating, some is irreversible and coal is bad.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
A polar bear dries off after taking a swim in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska.
A polar bear dries off after taking a swim in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska.Credit: Brian Battaile/AP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

A special report being written by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on climate change starkly contradicts White House policy: global warming is undeniable and climate change is accelerating, it says.

The climate change report is only slated for release this spring. Meanwhile, not a few details are revealed in another report, by the government committee tasked with critiquing the report ahead of its publication.

Indeed, the panel critiques the climate change report with gusto, pointing out many areas where the report needs polishing. The committee feels for instance that Man's responsibility for climate change needs to be better explained, as does the general interconnectness of the land-atmosphere-ocean system. But in general, the committee agreed, report is starkly convincing.

A key point is that the global climate continues to change rapidly compared to the historic pace of natural change.

New record global temperatures were set in 2014, then in 2015, and again in. Among many other things, the report also describes the accelerating breakdown of Arctic and Alaskan sea ice, and the record levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the amount of which has risen at an unprecedented pace in the last two years. The report also advocates steering clear of coal.

By and large, the report is accurate, the committee sums up, and urgent: "Human emissions of greenhouse gases have substantially warmed the planet and are causing myriad changes to the Earth system, some of which are effectively irreversible on human timescales."

Ergo, we have already changed the planet in ways we cannot fix. "Some of the global consequences of climate change in the Arctic are potentially catastrophic and irreversible," writes the critique committee, adding, "There may also be physical thresholds beyond which these consequences become inevitable (even if they might unfold over centuries)."

One change that could unfold over centuries is reviving coal mining, for instance, a notion that sent environmental groups scurrying to sue the Trump government. which last Tuesday, ended the moratorium on coal production, seemingly dismissing the science demonstrating that using coal for energy is "dirtier" than using, for instance, natural gas, and promising to provide "clean coal, really clean coal". The climate change report does not dwell on the relative merits of hydrocarbon fuels but merely observes, "From a climate or a health perspective, it would make a lot more sense to think about utilizing more of the gas and less of the coal."

From left: Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeCredit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

At least one item of good news we learn, everything being relative, is that atmospheric methane has been flat. So far, fear that the vast permafrost thaw in the northern hemisphere (chiefly Russia, where whole cities are crumbling as the ground defrosts, and Canada) will lead to a methane spike and cause even more global warming, isn't coming true. At least yet.

One chapter in the report that might perhaps help explain why so many Americans believe in climate change, just that it doesn't affect them personally, touches on with regional differences in precipitation changes. "Annual precipitation has decreased in much of the West, Southwest and Southeast, and increased in most of the Northern and Southern Plains, Midwest and Northeast," it says. That could be confusing to some.

Whether the Trump White House will read the report, restore budgets to environmental research and roll back coal revival, for instance, or just be confused, is another question. The Department of Energy's Office of International Climate and Clean Energy this week banned employees from using the phrase "climate change" or even "emissions reduction" in memos, Politico reports, ahead of which, the White House deleted references to climate change from its website.

In March, the administration's pick for environmental leader, Scott Pruitt, rejected the science of emissions, flouting his own experts at the EPA that he heads. The EPA states that carbon dioxide emissions are the main driver of manmade climate change. Pruitt has told the press that he does not currently believe CO2 is a "primary contributor" to global warming.



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