Global temps rise, calls to ac­tion fall

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion notes 7-de­gree rise by 2100 but thinks planet’s fate al­ready sealed

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Juliet Eilperin, Brady Den­nis and Chris Mooney

WASH­ING­TON — Deep in a 500-page en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment re­leased in Au­gust, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion made a star­tling as­sump­tion: On its cur­rent course, the planet will warm 7 de­grees by the end of this cen­tury.

A rise of 7 de­grees Fahren­heit com­pared with prein­dus­trial lev­els would be cat­a­strophic, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists. Many coral reefs would dis­solve in in­creas­ingly acidic oceans. Parts of Man­hat­tan and Mi­ami would be un­der wa­ter with­out costly coastal de­fenses. Ex­treme heat waves would rou­tinely smother large parts of the globe.

But the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not of­fer this dire fore­cast as part of an ar­gu­ment to com­bat cli­mate change. Just the op­po­site: The anal­y­sis as­sumes the planet’s fate is al­ready sealed.

The draft state­ment, is­sued by the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, was writ­ten to jus­tify Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to freeze fed­eral fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dards for cars and light trucks built af­ter 2020. While the pro­posal would in­crease green­house gas emis­sions, the im­pact state­ment says, that pol­icy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket.

“The amaz­ing thing they’re say­ing is hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties are go­ing to lead to this rise of car­bon diox­ide that is dis­as­trous for the en­vi­ron­ment and so­ci­ety. And then they’re say­ing they’re not go­ing to do any­thing about it,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a se­nior sci­en­tist at the U.S. Global Change Re­search Pro­gram from 1993 to 2002.

The doc­u­ment projects that global tem­per­a­ture will rise by nearly 3.5 de­grees Cel­sius above the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture be­tween 1986 and 2005 re­gard­less of whether Obama-era tailpipe stan­dards take ef­fect or are frozen for six years, as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed. The global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture rose more than 0.5 de­grees Cel­sius be­tween 1880, the start of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, and 1986, so the anal­y­sis as­sumes a roughly 4-de­gree Cel­sius or 7-de­gree Fahren­heit in­crease from prein­dus­trial lev­els.

The world would have to make deep cuts in car­bon emis­sions to avoid this dras­tic warm­ing, the anal­y­sis states. And that “would re­quire sub­stan­tial in­creases in tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tion and adop­tion com­pared to to­day’s lev­els and would re­quire the econ­omy and the ve­hi­cle fleet to move away from the use of fos­sil fu­els, which is not cur­rently tech­no­log­i­cally fea­si­ble or eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble.”

The White House did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

World lead­ers have pledged to keep the world from warm­ing more than 2 de­grees Cel­sius com­pared with prein­dus­trial lev­els, and agreed to try to keep the tem­per­a­ture rise to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius. But the cur­rent green­house gas cuts pledged un­der the 2015 Paris cli­mate agree­ment are not steep enough to meet ei­ther goal. Sci­en­tists pre­dict a 4-de­gree Cel­sius rise by the cen­tury’s end if coun­tries take no mean­ing­ful ac­tions to curb their car­bon out­put.

Trump has vowed to exit the Paris ac­cord and called cli­mate change a hoax. In the past two months, the White House has pushed to dis­man­tle nearly six ma­jor rules aimed at re­duc­ing green­house gases, dereg­u­la­tory moves in­tended to save com­pa­nies hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

If en­acted, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­pos­als would give new life to ag­ing coal plants; al­low oil and gas op­er­a­tions to re­lease more meth­ane into the at­mos­phere; and pre­vent new curbs on green­house gases used in re­frig­er­a­tors and air-con­di­tion­ing units. The ve­hi­cle rule alone would put 8 bil­lion ad­di­tional tons of car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere this cen­tury, more than a year’s worth of to­tal U.S. emis­sions, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s own anal­y­sis.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mates ac­knowl­edge that the poli­cies would re­lease far more green­house gas emis­sions from Amer­ica’s en­ergy and trans­porta­tion sec­tors than oth­er­wise would have been al­lowed.

The state­ment is the lat­est ev­i­dence of deep con­tra­dic­tions in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to cli­mate change.

De­spite Trump’s skep­ti­cism, fed­eral agen­cies con­duct­ing sci­en­tific re­search have of­ten reaf­firmed that hu­mans are caus­ing cli­mate change, in­clud­ing in a ma­jor 2017 re­port that found “no con­vinc­ing al­ter­na­tive ex­pla­na­tion.”

In one in­ter­nal White House memo, of­fi­cials won­dered whether it would be best to sim­ply “ig­nore” such analy­ses.

In this con­text, the draft en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ment from NHTSA — which si­mul­ta­ne­ously out­lines a sce­nario for very ex­treme cli­mate change, and yet of­fers it to sup­port an en­vi­ron­men­tal roll­back — is sim­ply the lat­est ap­par­ent in­con­sis­tency.

Con­ser­va­tives who con­demned Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s cli­mate ini­tia­tives as reg­u­la­tory over­reach have de­fended the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach, call­ing it a more rea­son­able course.

Obama’s cli­mate poli­cies were costly to in­dus­try and yet “mostly sym­bolic,” be­cause they would have made barely a dent in global car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, said Her­itage Foun­da­tion re­search fel­low Nick Loris, adding: “Friv­o­lous is a good way to de­scribe it.”

Fed­eral agen­cies typ­i­cally do not in­clude cen­tury-long cli­mate pro­jec­tions in their en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact state­ments. In­stead, they tend to as­sess a reg­u­la­tion’s im­pact dur­ing the life of the pro­gram — the years a coal plant would run, for ex­am­ple, or the amount of time cer­tain ve­hi­cles would be on the road.

Us­ing the no-ac­tion sce­nario “is a text­book ex­am­ple of how to lie with statis­tics,” said MIT Sloan School of Man­age­ment pro­fes­sor John Sterman. “First, the ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­poses ve­hi­cle ef­fi­ciency poli­cies that would do al­most noth­ing (to fight cli­mate change). Then (the ad­min­is­tra­tion) makes their im­pact seem even smaller by com­par­ing their pro­pos­als to what would hap­pen if the en­tire world does noth­ing.”

BEN MAR­GOT/AP

If en­acted, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­pos­als would put bil­lions more tons of car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere this cen­tury, more than a year’s worth of to­tal U.S. emis­sions.

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