Climate Assessment published, rejected

Report cover
Photograph credit: National Park Service.

I think it was Jared Diamond (though it may have been me) who said that the person who cut down the last palm tree on Easter Island was probably simultaneously calling for another study. The Fourth National Climate Assessment has been published, and it seems fairly definitive. David Malakoff, writing in Science, calls it a sobering message and says,

Climate change is already being felt in communities across the United States, and will cause growing harm to the economy, infrastructure, and human and ecological health—unless the United States and other nations take concerted action to reduce emissions of warming gases and adapt to a warmer world.

Far from calling for another study, the White House, having released the report the day after Thanksgiving, essentially rejected its conclusions. The website FYI: Science Policy News from AIP [The American Institute of Physics] comments,

The White House and President Trump have sought to portray the report as flawed. A White House spokesperson asserted it is “largely based on the most extreme scenario” — a claim rejected by Katharine Hayhoe, one of the authors of the relevant section. The spokesperson also said the next assessment cycle will provide an opportunity for a “more transparent and data-driven process that includes fuller information on the range of potential scenarios and outcomes.” Asked by reporters about the report, Trump replied, “I’ve seen it. I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,” but pressed on its assertions about the damage climate change will cause to the U.S. economy, he replied, “I don’t believe it.” [Links and italics in original.]

The government lumbers along, no matter who is in charge. Though the report was released at a deliberately inopportune time, Mr. Malakoff quotes Virginia Burkett, a climate scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, as noting, “The report has not been altered in any way to reflect political considerations.” The comment by the “spokesperson,” however, makes you wonder about the next report. Nevertheless, Democrats in the House promise a series of hearings to make climate change a top priority.

Finally, there is hope. Max Boot, a right-wing columnist for the Washington Post, the other day admitted,

I used to be a climate-change skeptic. I was one of those conservatives who thought that the science was inconclusive, that fears of global warming were as overblown as fears of a new ice age in the 1970s, that climate change was natural and cyclical, and that there was no need to incur any economic costs to deal with this speculative threat. I no longer think any of that, because the scientific consensus is so clear and convincing. [Hyperlink in original.]

What convinced Mr. Boot was none other than the Fourth National Climate Change Assessment. After detailing rising sea levels, rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and forest fires, he asks (or bemoans),

I’ve owned up to the danger. Why haven’t other conservatives? They are captives, first and foremost, of the fossil fuel industry, which outspent green groups 10 to 1 in lobbying on climate change from 2000 to 2016. But they are also captives of their own rigid ideology. It is a tragedy for the entire planet that the United States’ governing party is impervious to science and reason.

The United States’s governing party is impervious to science and reason! Mr. Boot also seemed impervious for a long time; very much to his credit, he “owned up to the danger.” Let us hope that others in his party will follow suit, because we are nowhere near the “new normal.”