Federal Report on Climate Change Impact Leaked Before Trump Can Censor It

Posted Aug. 16, 2017

MP3 Interview with Naomi Ages, Greenpeace USA's senior climate liability campaigner, conducted by Scott Harris


A new draft report written by scientists from 13 federal agencies summarizes the current impact of climate change in the U.S., in contrast to the usual warnings seen in such reports that often predict dire future consequences. The federal scientists who put together this report were so concerned that President Trump would suppress their work that they leaked it to the New York Times, given the that the president denies that the effects of climate change are attributable to human activity.

The report states that “evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” and finds that the average temperature in the U.S. has risen rapidly since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years. Darkly the report concludes that even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases, the world would still experience an estimated .3 to 2 degree Celsius increase in warming over the rest of this century.

Among the current effects of climate change addressed in the report were extreme weather conditions, increases in rainfall, heatwaves, drought, the bleaching of coral reefs, rising sea level and melting ice in both the Arctic and Antarctica. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Naomi Ages, Greenpeace USA's senior climate liability campaigner, who assesses the significance of the leaked federal report, and how the climate activist community is working to effectively challenge the views and actions of President Trump, who dismisses climate change as a "hoax." [Rush transcript.]

NAOMI AGES: The Trump administration, and in particular, the EPA has been downplaying or denying that either climate change is real or that it affects Americans and the world – and that's been going on well before Trump took office. This report is the product of years of research across multiple government agencies and drafts of it have been posted before to do the peer review process that's so important to establish science. And the reason that these scientists released this particular part of it to the New York Times – the New York Times did clarify that it had been publicly available but very little attention had been paid to it. The EPA – that being Scott Pruitt – hasn't signed off on this report yet, and he only has until the end of next week to do, and these scientists are very concerned they're either going to shelve it in some way or try to undermine the conclusion. And that's why they went public.

It looks like their fears were founded because Scott Pruitt said that he would be reviewing the report to make that its claims weren't politicized.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Naomi, maybe you could summarize for our listeners the main findings of this report that we need to be concerned with climate change, not only for the future but for the here and now.

NAOMI AGES: That's absolutely right. I'm only hesitating to summarize because climate change is really impacting anybody, anywhere in the country and in the world. So you're seeing drought in California, increased flooding and rain in the southeastern United States. You're seeing rising sea levels, or you will be seeing rapidly rising sea levels on both seaboards.

So, there's almost nobody right now who isn't being currently affected by climate change, and those effects will worsen significantly, because the effect is amplified every year that more gases are put in the atmosphere.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And Naomi, what are groups like Greenpeace and other civil society groups doing to ensure that Donald Trump and his administration's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord – although it won't take effect until right around the time of the next presidential election – what can be done in the meantime to strengthen what we need to do as active citizens in a democracy to work at both the local, state and where possible, the federal level, to reduce carbon emissions and live up to the modest goals of the Paris Climate Accord?

NAOMI AGES: Modest indeed, yes. I think, to start at the local level, like you said. First, citizens should make climate an election issue, and not just in congressional and Senate races and at the federal level. But there are local councils that are going to have to help deal with the impacts of climate change. There are local things that can be done, like bans on fracking, like bans on exports of fossil fuels if you live in a coastal community, like organizing around offshore drilling, which the Trump administration suggests that they might be exploring on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. And that needs only local permission so people can think about organizing within their communities to oppose those things and make sure that they elect officials who represent them on those issues and that they keep asking their officials what their position is. And that's one thing we would encourage people to do and there are resources online that people can find out about. I'm sure there are local groups wherever you look who are already doing this hard work.

At the state level, it's important that your congressmen keep hearing about it. Congress is in recess, and so every member is at home and should be listening to their constituents and so, it's important to make climate and make emissions reduction the thing that they hear about from people, so that they know citizens are concerned about this and that they want climate policy. The U.S. still doesn't have comprehensive climate policy and Congress can pass a law at any point doing that; they just don't have the political will to do it. So we think you should be asking your members of Congress.

There's also plenty of local opposition to infrastructure that locks in fossil fuel - things like Keystone, things like pipelines on the Atlantic coast. People can organize against those. People can take their money away from banks for financing those pipelines. There really are things you can do everyday, little things that individual citizens can do that make a difference.

And at the federal level, it's important to point out that reducing the EPA budget, the Department of Interior giving away land to fossil fuel industries so they can explore them for oil and gas is not something that Americans support. And that has to do with your vote and that has to do with making public comments whenever they're open from any agency, and letting the government know that you do not agree with the policy that they are pursuing.

For more information on the National Climate Assessment report, visit nca2014.globalchange.gov.

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