For those who believe the scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is real, President Trump has already made many nightmares a reality. In his first six months, Trump picked a climate-change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, rolled back around two dozen environmental regulations, and announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
So far “climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese” isn’t the official policy of the U.S. government, but many worry that in addition to implementing policies that undo America’s progress on global warming, the Trump administration will take steps to prevent others from accessing facts about the problem. During the transition, the Trump team sent a questionnaire to the Department of Energy that aimed to root out “climate empiricists” (they later distanced themselves from the document). Then, during Trump’s first 100 days in office, the new administration gradually excised mentioned of climate change from government websites.
On Monday, The Guardian published emails between staffers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which show that they were told to use terms like “weather extremes” in their work in place of “climate change.” Think Progress notes that previous administrations have used less politicized terms to open up a dialogue with farmers, but the emails attribute the change to a “shift in perspective within the executive branch.”
Now the feud between the Trump administration and scientists has escalated again with the leak of an unreleased federal study on climate change to the New York Times. The 545-page Climate Science Special Report was drafted by scientists from 13 government agencies, and is part of the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, which is issued every four years. The findings are troubling, though they won’t be surprising to anyone who’s been following the dire warnings about the planet’s looming inhabitability. Per the Times:
The report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional 0.50 degrees Fahrenheit (0.30 degrees Celsius) of warming over this century compared with today. A small difference in global temperatures can make a big difference in the climate: The difference between a rise in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius and one of 2 degrees Celsius, for example, could mean longer heat waves, more intense rainstorms and the faster disintegration of coral reefs.
The study also finds that some extreme weather can be attributed to climate change:
The report finds it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.
In the United States, the report finds with “very high” confidence that the number and severity of cool nights has decreased, while the frequency and severity of warm days has increased since the 1960s. Extreme cold waves, it says, are less common since the 1980s, while extreme heat waves are more common.
The draft has been approved by the National Academy of Sciences, but the 13 government agencies (many of which are helmed by climate-change skeptics) must sign off on the report by August 18. One government scientist who worked on the report told the Times that he and his colleagues are worried that it will be suppressed.
But that narrative was knocked off course late Wednesday, when the Times updated its original story with a blockbuster of a correction:
Correction: August 9, 2017
An article on Tuesday about a sweeping federal climate change report referred incorrectly to the availability of the report. While it was not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January; it was not first made public by The New York Times.
As the Washington Post points out, the correction undercuts the premise of the Times article, which implied the scientists were stressed over whether the report would be buried by the administration. The Times Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller defended the report to the Post, saying they made the correction as soon as the paper was made aware:
“We were just not aware that somebody involved in the report had put a draft on this nonprofit Internet site. It was not a well-known site to us and the point is that the people who shared the draft with us were not aware of it either. That doesn’t change the larger point that scientists were worried that the government wouldn’t approve the report or release it through normal channels.”
Washington Post reports that scientists are looking at this as a test case to see how the Trump administration will handle scientific evidence that challenges its claims.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fired off on the Times in a statement, saying, “It’s very disappointing, yet entirely predictable to learn The New York Times would write off a draft report without first verifying its contents with the White House or any of the federal agencies directly involved with climate and environmental policy.”
Sanders added that the White House would not comment on the draft until its scheduled release date. The administration is supposed to sign off on the report next week.
Earlier this week, the State Department did offer a glimmer of hope regarding the administration’s environmental policy when it said the U.S. will participate in upcoming international climate-change negotiations, and remains open to “re-engaging” in the Paris accord. There’s nothing to prevent Trump from renegotiating the country’s carbon-emissions targets and remaining in the agreement, or from releasing the Climate Science Special Report — but it’s hard to see why he would. In recent days, he’s seemed particularly interested in showing his base he’s up for a challenge, and this presents yet another opportunity to attack the “failing” New York Times — and this bungled report will be perfect fodder for that next tweetstorm.
This post has been updated to account for the Times’ correction.