No sup­press­ing this warn­ing

A leaked fed­eral re­port sends a mes­sage to Trump: Cli­mate change is real and po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Adraft fed­eral re­port on cli­mate change that went public Mon­day con­tains lit­tle in the way of new science, and although its lan­guage is un­equiv­o­cal, it merely con­firms what has been ob­vi­ous to so many sci­en­tists for so long: Hu­man ac­tiv­ity is in­creas­ing global tem­per­a­tures, lead­ing to po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic cli­mate change. So what’s the news? That fed­eral sci­en­tists so feared the fi­nal re­port would be gut­ted or sup­pressed by the cli­mate-change-doubt­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that they leaked it.

There’s no way to know for sure whether the ad­min­is­tra­tion would have squelched the fi­nal re­port, pre­lim­i­nary ver­sions of which have been cir­cu­lat­ing for months. What we do know, how­ever, is that Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­fusal to ac­cept the ob­vi­ous about the planet’s chang­ing cli­mate is more than em­bar­rass­ing. His stance sets the United States at odds with nearly ev­ery other na­tion on Earth, all but two of which are part of the 2015 Paris agree­ment to try to cap global warming to no more than 2 de­grees Cel­sius over pre-in­dus­trial lev­els by sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions.

Hit­ting the Paris agree­ment’s tar­get will re­quire a rapid pivot away from burn­ing fos­sil fu­els in fa­vor of re­new­able en­ergy. But Trump’s pol­icy is not only to drill for more oil and gas and res­ur­rect the coal in­dus­try (whose prod­uct is the worst of­fender among fos­sil fu­els), but also to as­sert the U.S. as the dom­i­nant pro­ducer of the very en­ergy sources that threaten rad­i­cal up­heaval in how hu­mans live on Earth. That’s as wrong­headed as it is dangerous.

In leak­ing the re­port (ob­tained by the New York Times), sci­en­tists within the gov­ern­ment en­sured that their work would reach the public, serv­ing as a check on the ad­min­is­tra­tion in case it did in­deed try to trump science with pol­i­tics. In that sense, the leaked re­port helps iso­late the pres­i­dent, his fel­low doubters and his al­lies, such as En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency Di­rec­tor Scott Pruitt and In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, whose com­bined reg­u­la­tory moves would re­duce curbs on emis­sions and set the stage for ac­cel­er­ated drilling and min­ing on fed­eral lands. Ad­di­tion­ally, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and states are mount­ing le­gal chal­lenges to reg­u­la­tory roll­backs that, we hope, will at the least slow these bad poli­cies, if not stymie them al­to­gether.

One area where the leaked re­port — part of the con­gres­sion­ally re­quired qua­dren­nial Na­tional Cli­mate As­sess­ment — breaks new ground is in so-called at­tri­bu­tion science. In the past, sci­en­tists have been ret­i­cent to tie spe­cific se­vere weather events to over­all cli­mate change. But the re­port says sci­en­tists are now able to draw some di­rect con­nec­tions with vary­ing de­grees of cer­tainty be­tween cli­mate change and such events as heat waves in Europe in 2003 and Aus­tralia in 2013. It also links hu­man-pro­pelled cli­mate change with a de­crease in the num­ber of cool nights across the United States since the 1960s and an in­crease in the num­ber of warm days since the 1980s.

De­spite the head-in-the-sand de­nials among Repub­li­cans in Washington, in Cal­i­for­nia the re­al­ity of cli­mate change has found some bi­par­ti­san ac­cep­tance. The Leg­is­la­ture re­cently ex­tended the state’s cap-and­trade pro­gram to re­duce carbon emis­sions with the help of a hand­ful of Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who be­lieve the science of cli­mate change. “We have to make de­ci­sions as leg­is­la­tors — do we do what is right or do we do what is po­lit­i­cally right?” said Assem­bly­man Devon Mathis (R-Visalia). It’s a ques­tion more law­mak­ers ought to ask them­selves.

The world is in a dangerous place, and it’s un­clear how much of cli­mate change even con­certed global ac­tion can stop. The re­port adds to re­cent ob­ser­va­tions that tem­per­a­tures at the poles are in­creas­ing more quickly than they are else­where, re­duc­ing the size of the Arc­tic ice cap which, some sci­en­tists be­lieve, is cre­at­ing a feed­back loop in which less ice leads to warmer wa­ter tem­per­a­tures which leads to less ice. And thaw­ing tundra has also been emit­ting mas­sive amounts of meth­ane, caus­ing more short-term warming and cre­at­ing its own sort of feed­back loop, lead­ing to more thaw­ing of the tundra.

The changes are al­ready real and the fu­ture risks po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic. The whole world knows it, and the vast ma­jor­ity of the world is try­ing to ad­dress it. That Trump is not, and that gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists feel the needs to join “deep state” ac­tors in leak­ing their find­ings in fear of what the pres­i­dent might do against the na­tion’s best in­ter­ests, is damn­ing.

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