Government scientists are worried the Trump administration will suppress a major climate report — here’s what it says


donald trump
Trump has said he doesn’t
believe in climate change. A new major government report
contradicts that belief.

AP Photo/Evan
Vucci



  • A leaked new government report that’s part of the
    National Climate Assessment provides an updated look at what we
    know about climate change.
  • It says the world is significantly warmer than it used
    to be and getting hotter, mostly because of human
    activity.
  • The Trump administration needs to sign off on the
    report before it’s officially released.

The world is warmer than it would be without human activity and
it’s continuing to get warmer.

We, as people, are mostly responsible for that. And it’s going to
get worse — much worse, if we don’t take significant action on
greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s the essential takeaway from the leaked draft of a major
new report on the state of the climate, which The
New York Times published
in full (previous versions of the
report had been available, though not
the latest version
released by The Times). Scientists from 13
different federal agencies — including the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Organization (NOAA), the Department of Energy (DOE),
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the
Department of Defense (DOD) — contributed to the report, which is
supposed to be part of the congressionally-mandated National
Climate Assessment.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has signed off on the
report. But before the report is officially released, the Trump
administration — including EPA head Scott Pruitt, who
disagrees with the scientific consensus
about what’s
happening with the climate and doesn’t believe carbon dioxide
(CO2) contributes to warming — needs to sign off on it too.

Because of that, researchers told The Times that they fear the
report could be suppressed or changed. (Presumably, that’s why it
was leaked to the Times in its NSF-approved form.)

Below, we’ve selected key findings from the 545-page report.


July hottest monthREUTERS/Corey
Hardcastle/Handout via Reuters

What government scientists say is happening with the climate

  • From 1865 to 2015, the global average surface temperatures
    became about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (.9 degrees Celsius)
    warmer. This can be seen in measurements of surface, atmospheric,
    and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow
    cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and more atmospheric
    water vapor. This can be said with “very high confidence,”
    meaning that there’s high consensus, strong evidence, and that
    this is well documented.
  • With similar levels of confidence we can say that human
    activities, especially greenhouse gas emissions (largely the
    result of burning fossil fuels), are responsible for this
    warming. The authors wrote: “There are no alternative
    explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the
    observational record that can explain the observed changes in
    climate.”
  • We can say with 95-100% certainty that humans caused most of
    the global temperature increase seen since 1951.
  • While natural variability from effects like El Niño exists,
    that variability only plays an important role on short time
    scales, not with larger climate trends.
  • Gases that we’ve already emitted will continue to warm the
    world, meaning that
    more warming is already baked into the system
    , making it
    harder and harder to avoid levels of warming considered
    dangerous. The authors wrote that even if the world stopped
    emitting gases today, we could expect at least an
    additional .3 degrees C of warming.
  • In the near term, the US can expect to see temperature
    increases of at least 1.4 degrees C over the next few decades
    (higher than the global average).  That’s pretty severe and
    could lead to more extreme heat waves, which kill more people
    than any other kind of extreme weather
    event. Record-setting temperatures of recent years
    will become common.
  • With very high confidence, we can expect the frequency and
    intensity of weather extremes like heavy precipitation and
    extreme heat to continue to rise. For events like severe storms
    and droughts, the trends vary by region.
  • There’s strong evidence and consensus that oceans are
    absorbing more than 90% of the heat being trapped inside the
    climate system, which means that they are taking in CO2. There’s
    suggestive evidence that because of this, they are becoming more
    acidic faster than at any point in at least the past 66 million
    years. Increased acidity can devastate marine life, especially
    coral reefs, which cover less than 2% of the
    ocean floor
    but are depended on by about 25% of marine
    species — including many key food sources for humans.
  • Temperatures in Alaska and the Arctic are rising more than
    twice as fast as the global average temperature rise, something
    that can be seen in
    ice loss at the North Pole
    .
  • There could be unanticipated tipping points we are
    approaching, caused by severely diminished ice
    sheets or severe extreme weather events.
  • Since the last National Climate Assessment, we’ve become
    significantly better at being able to attribute human influence
    to individual extreme weather and climate events, some of which
    are identified in the report.
  • There was no “global warming hiatus” between 2000 and 2013
    and the planet has continue to warm at a steady pace as
    predicted.

Perhaps most importantly, some predictions show that there’s hope
human action could make a difference:


giant tabular iceberg cliff ocean shutterstock_549616561
Shutterstock

  • The authors wrote that there’s “high confidence” that by
    later this century, US temperatures will be 2.8 degrees C warmer
    on a low emission scenario and 4.8 degrees C warmer on a high
    emissions scenario.
  • While there’s high confidence that at least 1 foot of sea
    level rise can be expected by the end of the century, different
    emissions scenarios could lead to vastly different levels.
    There’s inconclusive evidence that at present we could still see
    a 4 foot sea level rise;  but under a high emissions
    scenario the authors wrote that 8 feet cannot be ruled out.
  • There’s high confidence that we haven’t slowed down emissions
    enough to stabilize the climate to the goals set by the
    Paris Agreement. Even under a mid-to-low emissions scenario,
    we’ll have emitted enough to pass 2 degrees C in warming by some
    point between 2051 and 2065.

Quite simply, climate change is real and the longer we wait in
trying to slow emissions, the worse the consequences will be.


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