On Monday, the New York Times published a copy of the special science section of the draft 2018 National Climate Assessment, which federal climate researchers had completed but feared Donald Trump’s administration and new Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt were plotting to smother in its crib.
The draft report reflects federal scientists’ continued and unshaken belief human industrial activity is the primary driver of climate change, despite Trump’s belief that there is cold weather at all debunks the whole thing and Pruitt’s belief human CO2 emissions might not be related. It takes note of thousands of scientific studies, and particularly focuses on the rapid rise in US average temperatures since 1980. It also emphasizes research indicating the past few decades have been the warmest in 1,500 years.
“Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” the report’s executive summary informs readers. “Thousands of studies conducted by tens of thousands of scientists around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and an increase in atmospheric water vapor. ... The last few years have also seen record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes, as well as the warmest years on record for the globe.”
“There are no alternative explanations” to human industrial activity being the cause, it adds, and “no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate.”
The report cites a documented rise in global annual average temperature from 1880 through 2015 of over 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 Fahrenheit). It also warns that even if humans simply stopped pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, temperatures would rise another .3 degrees Celsius (.5 Fahrenheit) this century, but current projections put humanity on a path towards over 2 degrees Celsius rise, which would be disastrous.
In another blow to Trump’s conviction the weather somehow disproves climate change, the report noted scientists are increasingly able to link extreme weather events like heat waves, storms and droughts to rising temperatures.
Though the Times initially reported the paper was leaked, indicating it was sent to them by someone involved in the process of its creation, numerous scientists noted a draft version had been circulating online since the EPA first released it for public comment last year.
The 2018 National Climate Assessment is legally mandated, meaning the Trump administration could face lawsuits if (or more likely, when) it suppresses it. The scientific section of the report posted by the Times requires sign-off from 13 agencies, including the EPA and others now headed by climate skeptics, and the White House.
In early August, Nature received documents suggesting Pruitt was moving ahead with a shamelessly cynical plan to require future EPA research be vetted in a “red team, blue team” format, which would turn its review board into a war between actual scientists and industry flacks. Pruitt had already fired half the EPA board of scientific counselors, seemingly in preparation to hire red team panelists recommended by the fossil fuel industry-backed Heartland Institute.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which coordinates federal climate reports, also had no staff in its science division left as of July 1.
The publicization of the report is a clear middle finger to Trump, Pruitt and their plan to derail federal climate research and policy, and it ensures the public has an opportunity to review it before they get their big, grubby mitts all over it. But given Trump’s penchant for launching into a self-destructive rage every time an act of rebellion embarrasses him, it could also inspire the White House into an ill-advised act of revenge.
Update: While the original Times story insisted the report had not been made available to the public before it was published on their website, the paper has since corrected their account to show it was actually first spread online in December 2016, when the EPA posted it to their website as part of a public commenting period. Whoops.
Still, that someone took it to the Times reflected concern Trump, Pruitt or others in the administration would interfere with the final release draft of the report, or suppress it entirely. This article has been updated accordingly.