“I’m not denying any climate change issues,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Sunday’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. Then he denied one of the most uncontroversial findings in climate science.
The top issue on every Sunday news show should have been — but wasn’t — climate change. The United Nations released last Monday a report arguing that world leaders’ pledge to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius is too modest, and that they have about a decade to get on track. A Post editorial on the U.N. report explained last week:
The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees would be substantial. Coral reefs would go from mostly gone to almost entirely gone. More sea-level rise would put up to 10 million more people in danger. High heat would kill more people. It would be much hotter on land and in cities. Deadly mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever would spread farther. Droughts would be more likely. So would deluges. Tropical fisheries would empty further. Staple crop yields, particularly in some of the world’s poorest nations, would decline more. Disastrous loss of the Antarctic ice sheet would be more likely. Feedback loops could push warming further than anticipated, as, for example, thawing permafrost releases gases the frozen ground has trapped for centuries. Up to nearly 1 million additional square miles of permafrost would thaw at 2 degrees of warming.
President Trump’s response to the U.N. report, the executive summary of which was probably far too long for the famously incurious president to have read, was that he was curious “who drew it.” The answer is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, renowned for its caution in making scientific pronouncements.
Kudlow argued Sunday that the panel was, in fact, exaggerating the danger. “I won’t say it’s a scare tactic, but I think they overestimate,” he said to Stephanopoulos, while mentioning none of the report’s findings, specific or general. The thing most resembling an argument that Kudlow had was that “these models,” by which he presumably meant the sophisticated computerized climate simulations that researchers use to approximate climate change, “have not been very successful in the last 20 years.”
He is referring to the complaint in climate-denier circles about a roughly 15-year “pause” or “hiatus” in the warming trend starting in 1998. That year had a strong El Niño effect, marking a high-water mark in warming that did not occur in subsequent years absent that natural spike. The decades-long warming trend had not abated. Some years will always be hotter than others. But the general direction is still up, and at an alarming pace. As The Post Editorial Board noted when 2017 was deemed the second-hottest on record (cooler only than 2016), “The past three years were the warmest three ever recorded. The five warmest years in the record all came since 2010. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the data came since 2001. This decade is on track to be warmer than the 2000s, which were warmer than the 1990s, and so on.”
But Kudlow’s denialism got really embarrassing when he said this: “How much of it is man-made, how much of it is solar, how much of it is oceanic, how much of it is rainforest and other issues? I think we’re still exploring all of that.” In fact, scientists have explored the question of whether some natural source could be responsible for the unquestionably warming planet — including changes in solar radiation. The answer continues to be an unequivocal “no.” Natural factors are not shifting nearly enough. Nor can they explain tell-tale human “fingerprints,” such as a pattern of warming in the atmosphere implicating greenhouse emissions. There is no plausible explanation for the Earth’s rapid climate change other than the fact that emitting heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere will result in more trapped heat. There is no mystery to be solved here.
Kudlow’s real objection — and, I suspect, that of many Republicans who are unfamiliar with or uninterested in the science — is that listening to the experts would force leaders to make changes that are “way, way too difficult.” The implication is that humans will not change enough to prevent the Earth from frying. Future generations will suffer whether we try to avoid it. So burn away, and enjoy the climate while it lasts! This fatalism is deeply immoral. It is also no justification for Trump administration policy, which is to dig the hole even deeper by undercutting the global effort to reduce emissions and pumping them up at home.
Kudlow wanted to spend Sunday morning touting the country’s buoyant economy, predicting (implausibly) that high growth rates would last through the medium term. But in the long term, the 71-year-old Kudlow will be dead, and the rest of us will suffer the consequences of the hard facts he and the rest of this administration refused to acknowledge.