Last Friday, the Trump administration abruptly published the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment – a congressionally mandated report on the effects and implications of climate change that directly contradicted the White House’s climate policies.
The 1,656 page report, which was authored by over 300 federal and non-federal scientists who consulted another 1,000 individuals across 40 cities, was scheduled for release in December. The Trump administration published the report during the Thanksgiving long weekend, which the New York Times, among others, say was a deliberate attempt to bury the story while Americans were distracted by the holiday and shopping sales.
The report outlines the devastating impacts of rising temperatures and sea levels on a number of fronts, including economic costs, public health risks and an increase in extreme heat and flooding events.
In regions such as the Southeast, extreme heat is expected to drain local economies of nearly half a billion labor hours by 2100. U.S. agriculture will also be hit hard by higher temperatures and intermittent droughts and flooding. Corn and soybean yields are both expected to decrease by 25 percent in farms across the Midwest.
The Midwest is also expected to see an additional 2,000 premature deaths per year by 2090. Higher temperatures will also usher in more cases of mosquito, food and waterborne diseases.
Meanwhile, wildfires are expected to burn up to six times more forest area by 2050. In Southern California alone, burned areas are expected to double. The report also estimates that nearly $1 trillion in national wealth held in real estate and public infrastructure will be threatened by worsened storm surges and flooding.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters downplayed the significance of the report’s alarming findings, attributing them in part to the Obama administration’s work on the first volume as well as complicated modelling scenarios.
“The report is largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that, despite strong economic growth that would increase greenhouse gas emissions, there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population,” Walters said in a statement.
Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University who authored the chapter on climate scenarios, refuted the White House’s position that the report relied too heavily on worst case parameters.
“I wrote the climate scenarios chapter myself so I can confirm it considers ALL scenarios, from those where we go carbon negative before end of century to those where carbon emissions continue to rise,” Hayhoe wrote on Twitter. “What WH says is demonstrably false.”
Unfortunately, the White House was not alone in mishandling an issue of such grave importance. In the days after the publication of the report, several news platforms botched their obligations to inform the public.
To their credit, CNN’s online coverage succinctly summarized the report’s key findings, providing readers with accessible reporting that plainly laid out the report’s most significant warnings.
Astonishingly, the same article links to a clip of CNN’s State of the Union, in which host Dana Bash allowed CNN contributor Rick Santorum to go unchallenged in propagating the lie that the scientists who authored the report were “driven by money.”
Then, Santorum claimed us authors were “driven by money”. After I picked myself up off the floor laughing, since we received $0 for writing the report, I invited him to watch this entertaining Global Weirding episode. I don’t think he did; but you should! https://t.co/rPA74RgIEZ
— Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) November 27, 2018
Santorum falsely asserted that a scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change does not exist. In truth, a variety of surveys have illustrated the near unanimous consensus among climate scientists, including this 2012 study that found that among the 13,950 peer-reviewed scientific articles published on global warming between 1991 and 2012. only 24 articles, or 0.0017 percent, rejected the notion of anthropogenic climate change.
If Santorum wishes to dispute the scientific consensus on climate change at the expense of an informed public, CNN should book him alongside a climate scientist who can challenge his claims in real time, to the benefit of the network’s viewership.
However, if Santorum’s lies on climate change stem merely from an inadequate understanding of climate science, then Danielle Pletka, guest on Meet The Press this past Sunday, was motivated by something far more sinister: the corporate interests of the fossil fuel industry.
Right-wing panelist on Meet the Press on climate change: "I'm not a scientist … We need to also recognize we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that." pic.twitter.com/OLPUZOpoKR
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) November 25, 2018
Pletka, who oversees foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, was allowed by host Chuck Todd to go unchallenged in erroneously tying cold weather patterns to the scientific consensus on long term climate change and rising temperatures.
Instead of challenging her with the facts on climate change, Todd let Pletka continue to spread misinformation in the vein of representing the “other side,” or as he put it, the “46%” of Americans who continue to support President Trump.
Incidentally, among the American Enterprise Institute’s top donors are oil and gas behemoth ExxonMobil and “climate change counter-movement organizations” Donors Capital Fund, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, all of which are political advocacy groups that have proactively sought to dispute the notion of anthropogenic climate change, according to environmental sociologist Robert J. Brulle.
The pertinent question remains, as Esquire’s Jack Holmes put it, “As Pletka so happily volunteered, she is not a scientist. So why was she invited on one of the nation’s Premier Political Talk Shows to spread disinformation about a scientific issue?”