The publication Friday of a major climate report written by 13 federal agencies has prompted a series of high-level Trump administration officials, including the president himself, to mount a full-court press questioning its findings.
The fourth National Climate Assessment says the effects of rising temperatures, including more heat waves, coastal floods and forest fires, could collectively strip the United States of one-tenth of its gross domestic product by the end of the century. Already, the authors argue global warming “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.”
The conclusions of the congressionally mandated report run counter to much of the rhetoric that has come from Trump's political appointees, who have tried to ramp up extraction of fossil fuels nationwide while often downplaying, or sometimes outright dismissing, their contributions to global warming.
Trump officials chose to publish the climate assessment on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when many Americans are busy shopping or spending time with family instead of reading the news.
But instead of being buried on Black Friday, the report has stayed in the headlines into the middle of this week. That's partially because its findings were particularly dire. But it's also because Trump officials chose to play them down.
Trump officials claimed the climate report focused on only worst-case scenarios, even as scientists who wrote the document said that is not true.
Appearing on an NBC affiliate in Sacramento while touring fire damage in California, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did acknowledge "the temperatures have risen" and the fire season "has gotten longer."
But he added: “It appears they took the worst scenarios and they built predictions on that. It should be more probability, but we’re looking at it.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the chief spokeswoman for the White House, expanded on that point during a press conference Tuesday.
"You have to look at the fact that this report is based on the most extreme model scenario, which contradicts long-established trends," she said. "Modeling the climate is extremely complicated science that is never exact."
Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Texas Tech University Climate Science Center and one of the more than 300 co-authors of the climate assessment, responded to Sanders on Twitter by saying "we considered many scenarios." The report indeed considered several scenarios, including the worst-case ones.
And the most robust dismissal of his own government's report came from the president himself.
During an interview Tuesday with The Post's Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey, Trump said he does not count himself among the “believers” who see the problem of climate change as dire and caused by humans.
“As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it,” he said.
Instead of addressing the root cause of recent rising temperatures — the buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activity — Trump riffed on a number of other environmental problems, including the accumulation of trash in the oceans and smog-forming pollution in the air around the world.
“You look at our air and our water and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia , including many other places, the air is incredibly dirty, and when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small,” Trump said. “And it blows over and it sails over. I mean we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific. It flows and we say, ‘Where does this come from?’ And it takes many people, to start off with.”
Trump's response left some climate scientists baffled. “How can one possibly respond to this?" Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, told The Post.
The response to the report from Republicans outside of the executive branch was not universally dismissive. On Twitter, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina called the climate report "a glaring reminder of the long-term risks of climate change" while Sen. Susan Collins of Maine urged the Trump administration "to take a harder look at the consequences of inaction." Both senators are up for reelection in swing states in 2020.
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— FERC nominee advances out of committee: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance Bernard McNamee, the administration's nominee to join the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The nomination now heads to the full Senate.
The panel voted 13-10 to approve McNamee even as opposition has grown among Democrats and environmental groups following a video that emerged of the nominee's remarks in February touting fossil fuels and criticizing renewable energy sources. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted for McNamee, called his remarks unfortunate but said she expects “he will be fuel-neutral,” according to the Associated Press.
— Supreme Court deals a setback for endangered frog: In a win for property owners and a loss for conservationists, the Supreme Court voted unanimously to overrule a federal appeals court decision that designated 1,500 acres of Louisiana land as a potential home for the endangered dusky gopher frog. Writing for the majority in a 8-0 decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the "U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit should have examined more closely whether the land in question could actually support what is one of the world’s most endangered amphibians," The Post’s Robert Barnes reports. The ruling was made without Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was confirmed after the case was argued.
— "Fox & Friends" fed interview script to Pruitt's team: Emails reveal that in multiple interviews on Fox & Friends, the office of former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt chose the topics for the interviews and knew the questions in advance, and in one case “even approved part of the show’s script,” The Daily Beast reports. Citing emails obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request from the Sierra Club, the publication writes they “demonstrate how the show has pushed standard cable-news practices to the extreme in order to make interviews a comfortable, non-confrontational experience for favored government officials.” In a statement about the interviews, a spokesperson for Fox News Channel said this "is not standard practice whatsoever."
— U.N. reports finds countries falling short of climate goals: Seven major countries are well behind meeting the goals for cutting greenhouse gas emission that were made in Paris three years ago, according to a new United Nations report.
The verdict from the annual “emissions gap” report from the U.N. Environment Program “is likely to weigh heavily during a U.N. climate meeting that begins in Poland next week, where countries are scheduled to discuss how well they are, or are not, living up to the goals set in the landmark 2015 the Paris climate agreement,” The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. And the stakes are now higher, the report found, as the “gap between countries' Paris promises and emissions levels that would be needed to stay consistent with the Paris agreement is even larger than previously believed.”
— No longer just sticking to weather: The National Weather Service shined a light on the findings of the Trump administration’s new and dire climate change report, even after the president himself distance himself from it. “The Weather Service is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a leading contributor to the report, but was not among the primary offices that worked on it,” The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. “Nevertheless, the Weather Service sent out three consecutive tweets Monday afternoon calling attention to the report’s findings."
Background: "Many climate scientists have long urged weather communicators to connect the dots between climate change and weather trends even as the Weather Service has steered clear. Climate change doubters, on the other hand, have resisted efforts from weather communicators to bring up the issue, imploring them to instead 'stick to weather.'"
— Why let hog waste go to waste? A pair of companies is launching a plan to capture methane emissions from thousands of hog waste lagoons as a way to combat climate change and harness the gas as a renewable source of energy.
“Food giant Smithfield and Dominion Energy, a large electric and gas utility, have agreed to spend $125 million each over 10 years to cover hog lagoons in North Carolina, Virginia and Utah, capture methane gas and feed that into Dominion’s pipeline network,” The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. It would be one of the largest such animal waste-to-energy efforts, looking to tackle part the agricultural emissions that Mufson notes make up 9 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
— What the GM layoffs say about the U.S. economy and the Trump administration: The move by General Motors to close five factories and reduce 15 percent of its salaried workforce “sounded an incongruous note amid otherwise plentiful signs of U.S. economic health,” The Post’s David Lynch and Taylor Telford report. “Coming just weeks after Republican candidates lost several congressional seats across the industrial Midwest, GM’s action carries a stark political warning for the president. If voters conclude that Trump failed to deliver on his promise to return lost jobs and prosperity to the region, his reelection hopes could be dealt a blow.”
How voters feel: “I thought he was going to do miracles for us, so did a lot of other autoworkers,’’ a 46-year-old GM worker in Ohio who was laid off told Bloomberg News. “He needs to step up to the plate and do what he said.’’
How Trump reacted: The president said he was “very disappointed” with the move from GM and its CEO Mary Barra in a pair of tweets on Tuesday. He also threatened to take away federal subsidies from the automaker if it went ahead with its plans even though, as The Post’s Damian Paletta and Andrew Van Dam explain, the president cannot "unilaterally cut off all federal aid to GM" without the support of Congress.
— Pro-nuclear group wades into Georgia runoff race: An advocacy arm of the Nuclear Energy Institute is pouring at least $750,000 into the runoff race in support of incumbent Georgia Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton. The Republican Eaton is also an advocate of Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle project, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. “Eaton, who has served on the commission since 2007, has been a staunch supporter of the project, arguing the plant will provide clean energy to the state while diversifying the state’s energy mix,” per the report. Democrat Lindy Miller "said she is not opposed to nuclear power but doesn’t want Georgia ratepayers being saddled with the project’s cost overruns.”
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Alexandra Dunn to be assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Energy Subcommittee holds a legislative hearing on Thursday.
Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of William Bookless to be principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration on Thursday.
- The Women's Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on incorporating intelligent water systems in U.S. water utilities on Thursday.
- Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz speaks at an Atlantic Council event on "Investing in Natural Gas for Africans" on Thursday.
- Former Vice President Al Gore hosts the eighth annual 24 Hours of Reality broadcast on the worldwide impact of climate change on Dec. 3-4.
—It's only Wednesday, but we think this might be the week's best gif. In case you missed it, NASA's InSight explorer successfully landed on Mars on Monday.