Though inundated by news of the three-day government shutdown and President Trump's alleged affair with an adult film star, an announcement late last week from federal scientists should, in the long term, prove far more consequential.
2017 was the second-hottest year in 138 years of record-keeping, trailing only 2016.
“The planet is warming remarkably uniformly,” Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told The Post’s Chris Mooney and other reporters Thursday. (Read Mooney's full report here.)
The measurements were made by NASA, better known for rocketing astronauts into orbit than for tabulating rising global temperatures. Yet the space agency — one of the few government agencies beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike — does both.
NASA is uncommonly popular for an arm of the federal government. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults view the space agency favorably, according to a 2015 Pew survey. Unlike so many other topics in politics, NASA’s sky-high popularity bridges the interplanetary void that often separates partisans on policy issues. Majorities of independents (70 percent), Democrats (68 percent) and Republicans (63 percent) say they like the space agency.
That fondness — born out of completing daring missions, such as sending men to the moon and robots to Mars — appears to translate into trust. Of 11 government agencies that study climate change — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Smithsonian Institution — NASA is thought by Americans to have the most talented researchers, according to a 2012 study. Sixty percent of respondents rated NASA research scientists as “very competent” — higher than any other government agency surveyed in that study.
But the love for NASA doesn't mean the GOP embraces the agency's stance on climate science. Last year, only 18 percent of Republicans said they worried a great deal about climate change, according to Gallup.
The incongruity between support for the space agency and its climate warnings stems from a "crucial tension in conservative attitudes towards climate change, according to John Cook, a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.
“On the one hand, there is respect for scientific institutions like NASA,” Cook wrote by email. “On the other hand, acceptance of human-caused global warming is low.”
Part of the disconnect likely comes from the fact that the public probably doesn't understand the full scope of the space agency's mission.
Yes, NASA sends robotic spacecrafts to explore our solar system’s other planets and sends telescopes into orbit to observe distant galaxies. But the original 1958 law that created NASA also directs the agency to expand “human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere” right here on Earth — an objective its climate lab in New York carries out by calculating the atmospheric phenomenon of rising global temperatures.
Nevertheless, the image of NASA as solely a builder and launcher of rockets persists. In the 2012 study, 41 percent of respondents, a plurality, said they did not know how much climate research NASA conducted.
Americans are more likely to think such work was carried out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency. (NOAA, using different methodology, concluded that last year was the third-warmest ever recorded.)
In truth, no agency spends more on climate science than NASA, according to the Government Accountability Office.
More broadly, there's significant skepticism, especially among Republicans, about the scientific consensus in and outside of NASA that the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity is warming the atmosphere.
“A short answer is that most Republicans don't know about the scientific consensus,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, a Yale research scientist and director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication who conducted the 2012 survey on NASA.
But when survey-takers are told about that consensus — by one 2013 count, 97 percent of scientific studies agree on man-made global warming — “people then update their other beliefs about global warming being real and worrisome,” said Edward Maibach, a George Mason professor who worked with Leiserowitz on the NASA survey.
In their published papers, Maibach and Leiserowitz dubbed knowing the scientific consensus on climate change a “gateway belief.”
Their research shows that people generally take their cues from politicians rather than climate scientists when it comes to the issue -- meaning, for Republicans, they are hearing -- and tend to believe -- a lot of doubt about climate science.
“One of the simple, clear ideas about global warming that they have heard over and over and over again, because it is the product of a strategic communication campaign,” Maibach said, “is that there is a lot of disagreement among the experts.”
But other Republicans’ rhetoric, even if more tempered, has taken on NASA more directly. When NASA and NOAA announced 2015 was a (then) record-setting year for global temperatures, the office of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) told The Post that “satellite and weather balloon data do not show 2015 as a record year.”
On the other side of the Capitol, House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) called last year for a “rebalancing” of NASA’s budget toward more space exploration and away from earth science.
Indeed, NASA's Earth Science Division has historically seen its budget oscillate between presidential administrations, with President George W. Bush reducing resources and his successor, Barack Obama, restoring them.
“Scientists are trained to basically say it once and move on to the newest thing,” Maibach said. “Scientists don’t like to go back and repeat themselves over and over and over again, because that’s just not the way science works. But that’s the way public understanding is built. And politicians know that.”
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— Overnight, a tsunami warming off the West Coast has come and gone: "A tsunami warning was lifted Tuesday for a stretch of Pacific Coast from Washington to Alaska after a major undersea earthquake hit southeast of Kodiak, according to the National Weather Service," The Post's Fred Barbash and Brian Murphy report. "During several tense hours before dawn, officials in some coastal areas urged people to seek higher ground."
— The shutdown is over: With President Trump's signature Monday evening, the government is up and running normally again. Or as normally has it has been since Trump took office. The government is funded until Feb. 8, when the fun may start all over again.
— The solar industry just took a hit: President Trump imposed a 30 percent tariff on foreign-made solar panels, which in four years will fall to 15 percent, The Post's David J. Lynch reports. Those percentages aren't as large U.S. solar companies Suniva and SolarWorld were seeking but the American solar industry is still reeling from the news.
Cheap imported panels helped fuel both the construction of utility-scale solar generation and the installation of rooftop units. Now the Solar Energy Industries Association, a lobbying group, said up to one third of the 260,000 Americans currently employed in the industry are at risk.
January was set to be a fraught month for the solar industry, with deadlines on this and another decision by members of a Trump-appointed commission on whether to bolster coal and nuclear power plants. The latter went the solar industry's way; this one did not.
— It's official: On Monday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed the paperwork allowing for the construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to a small remote village otherwise off-limits to motorized traffic:
Today I was proud to sign the agreement with Alaska Natives of King Cove to allow them to build a life saving gravel road. 12 people have died because they couldn't get to a hospital. Never again. pic.twitter.com/UJSOMfbrqf— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) January 22, 2018
After a tense summer between the Trump administration and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), one of three Republicans to reject an Obamacare repeal, the president assured the senator his administration would make the road a reality, via an October edition of The Post:
How important was a road through #Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to @realDonaldTrump ? He sent my Oct. 16 @washingtonpost story on it to @lisamurkowski w/ the message, “Lisa, we will get it done.” pic.twitter.com/5jmm1iRDUZ— Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin) January 22, 2018
— White-knuckle riders at Yellowstone: Snowmobilers drove too close to Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful geyser on Sunday while most of the park’s staff was on furlough. A concession operator authorized to conduct snowmobile tours through Yellowstone — even during the shutdown — violated park rules by telling his clients "they could drive around the visitor center and into an area where the snowmobiles are prohibited,” park Superintendent Dan Wenk told The Post's Juliet Eilperin. Now those riders face a mandatory court appearance.
— Concealed gun stake: Zinke, who is an avid hutner, has opened more federal land to hunting as Interior secretary. Now a new report from HuffPost suggests he might have been at least partially motivated to do so because he owns shares in a Montana company "that manufactures and sells firearms and advanced weapons materials, a financial interest he did not disclose when nominated last year," Itai Vardi reports.
"PROOF Research Inc. was first established in 2011 in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, under the name Extreme Precision Armaments Inc., according to state of Montana business records. The company specializes in the production of lightweight rifles with high-precision carbon fiber barrels for hunting and military applications and was born as a merger of four smaller firearms and gun parts companies. It later changed its name to PROOF Research Inc. and moved to the nearby town of Columbia Falls.
Zinke provided consulting services for the company in 2012, according to local Montana news reports and a disclosure he filed as a candidate for [House] two years later listing $16,975 in compensation. After winning a House seat in November 2014, Zinke told a local newspaper that he planned to retain a small stake in PROOF Research 'because it’s a great company.'”
— Hearings on Zinke's drilling plan postponed: Because of the brief government shutdown, scheduled hearings on the Trump administration’s controversial offshore drilling proposal were put on pause, the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said Monday. These include meetings from Anchorage to Boston. The full list from BOEM's website is listed below.
— Thank goodness: The blink-and-you-missed-it shutdown did not stop one essential service in the nation's capital: The National Zoo's super-popular Panda Cam continued uninterrupted throughought, The Post's Dana Hedgpeth assures us.
— How a climate-change-fighting technology could backfire: Bioenergy combined with carbon capture storage, or BECCS, aims to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by burning plants while putting the resulting carbon dioxide underground. The idea is that when new plant life grows, it will suck up carbon, resulting in a net removal of the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.
Sounds good. The only problem, according to new research that my colleague Chris Mooney reported on Monday: The massive amounts of water, fertilizer and land the process consumes could cause its own environmental havoc.
— How much warmer was your city last year? The New York Times put together an interactive database compiling information from more than 3,800 cities. The newspaper found about 88 percent of those cities had higher temperatures than normal last year. Check it out here.
— Another California city, another oil lawsuit: This one comes with a twist. Richmond, Calif., surrounded by water on three sides, announced Monday that it is joining Los Angeles and other Golden State cities in suing or planning to sue big oil companies over the cost of climate change to city infrastructure. The kicker: The Bay Area community is home to a major Chevron refinery, which happens to be the city's largest employer.
-—Explosion at Oklahoma drilling site: Five people are missing after a Monday explosion at a drilling rig in northeast Pittsburg County, The Post’s Kristine Phillips reports. "Twenty-two employees were drilling a gas well at the site when the explosion occured; 17 of whom were able to get out safely. One person was flown to a hospital, while others had minor or no injuries, officials said," she reports. "What exactly happened is not yet known. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is investigating the incident and interviewing employees."
— Bank of America's "peak oil" prediction: Guesses at when the world's oil demand will peak have come and gone without bring realized, so take this latest with a grain of salt. In a note to investors, Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts argue electric cars will erode "oil demand growth in the early 2020s and cause global oil demand to peak by 2030." Most oil companies put their peak prediction a decade later, in 2040, Bloomberg News reports.
— Refinery bankruptcy: One day after its hometown made the Super Bowl, Philadelphia Energy Solutions announced it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Reuters first reported over the weekend. The reason? According to Axios, the company has spent "over $800 million on compliance credits" for the renewable fuel standard, a contentious mandate that gasoline makers put a set amount of biofuel in their blends that divides oil- and corn-state Republicans. Expect to see PES brought up in this year's new RFS fight.
- The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds its 6th annual Lunch & Learn event to decide what topics to cover in 2018.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on Canada’s energy future.
- Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment holds a forum on California's climate action.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has a hearing scheduled on electric power system performance.
- The National Biodiesel Conference & Expo continues.
- The Senate Commerce Committee holds a field hearing on “Driving Automotive Innovation and Federal Policies” on Wednesday.
- ACORE and Bloomberg New Energy Finance holds a webinar on renewable energy financing on Wednesday.
- Politico holds an event on “Driverless Cars: Who’s Making Sure They’re Safe” on Thursday.
- Wilson Center holds a discussion on “A World Without NAFTA?” on Thursday.
- The American Wind Energy Association holds its Southeast Wind Conference in Atlanta, Ga. on Thursday.
- Brookings Institution holds a live webcast with OIRA administrator Neomi Rao on “What’s next for Trump’s regulatory agenda” on Friday.
- The Society of Environmental Journalists, George Mason University and the Wilson Center host an event to launch the annual report on: “The Journalists' Guide to Energy and Environment" on Friday.
- EPA chief Scott Pruitt will testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 31
- FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee is scheduled to speak at the 31st annual Power and Gas M&A Symposium on Feb. 1.
Senators relieved after vote to end shutdown:
A woman battling cancer is surprised with every puppy at an animal shelter:
Watch Jimmy Kimmel on the government shutdown and the Women's March: