Category Archives: Climate change denial

Trump Administration Hardens Its Attack on Climate Science

By Coral Davenport & Mark Landler, The New York Times,  May 27, 2019
The Huntington Canyon coal-fired power plant in Utah. The White House, already pursuing major rollbacks of greenhouse-gas emission restrictions, is amplifying its attack on fundamental climate-science conclusions. Credit: Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump has rolled back environmental regulations, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, brushed aside dire predictions about the effects of climate change, and turned the term “global warming” into a punch line rather than a prognosis.

Now, after two years spent unraveling the policies of his predecessors, Mr. Trump and his political appointees are launching a new assault.

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.

Mr. Trump is less an ideologue than an armchair naysayer about climate change, according to people who know him. He came into office viewing agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency as bastions of what he calls the “deep state,” and his contempt for their past work on the issue is an animating factor in trying to force them to abandon key aspects of the methodology they use to try to understand the causes and consequences of a dangerously warming planet.

As a result, parts of the federal government will no longer fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and presenting a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.

The attack on science is underway throughout the government. In the most recent example, the White House-appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously.

President Trump has pushed to resurrect the idea of holding public debates on the validity of climate science. Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Scientists say that would give a misleading picture because the biggest effects of current emissions will be felt after 2040. Models show that the planet will most likely warm at about the same rate through about 2050. From that point until the end of the century, however, the rate of warming differs significantly with an increase or decrease in carbon emissions.

The administration’s prime target has been the National Climate Assessment, produced by an interagency task force roughly every four years since 2000. Government scientists used computer-generated models in their most recent report to project that if fossil fuel emissions continue unchecked, the earth’s atmosphere could warm by as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That would lead to drastically higher sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, crop failures, food losses and severe health consequences.

Work on the next report, which is expected to be released in 2021 or 2022, has already begun. But from now on, officials said, such worst-case scenario projections will not automatically be included in the National Climate Assessment or in some other scientific reports produced by the government.

“What we have here is a pretty blatant attempt to politicize the science — to push the science in a direction that’s consistent with their politics,” said Philip B. Duffy, the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, who served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the government’s most recent National Climate Assessment. “It reminds me of the Soviet Union.”

In an email, James Hewitt, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, defended the proposed changes.

“The previous use of inaccurate modeling that focuses on worst-case emissions scenarios, that does not reflect real-world conditions, needs to be thoroughly re-examined and tested if such information is going to serve as the scientific foundation of nationwide decision-making now and in the future,” Mr. Hewitt said.

However, the goal of political appointees in the Trump administration is not just to change the climate assessment’s methodology, which has broad scientific consensus, but also to question its conclusions by creating a new climate review panel. That effort is led by a 79-year-old physicist who had a respected career at Princeton but has become better known in recent years for attacking the science of man-made climate change and for defending the virtues of carbon dioxide — sometimes to an awkward degree.

The Beaufort Sea in the Arctic, a region that is warming rapidly. The United States recently declined to sign a communiqué on protecting the Arctic unless it omitted references to climate change. Credit: Andrew Testa for The New York Times

“The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,” the physicist, William Happer, who serves on the National Security Council as the president’s deputy assistant for emerging technologies, said in 2014 in an interview with CNBC.

Mr. Happer’s proposed panel is backed by John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, who brought Mr. Happer into the N.S.C. after an earlier effort to recruit him during the transition.

Mr. Happer and Mr. Bolton are both beneficiaries of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, the far-right billionaire and his daughter who have funded efforts to debunk climate science. The Mercers gave money to a super PAC affiliated with Mr. Bolton before he entered government and to an advocacy group headed by Mr. Happer.

Climate scientists are dismissive of Mr. Happer; his former colleagues at Princeton are chagrined. And several White House officials — including Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser — have urged Mr. Trump not to adopt Mr. Happer’s proposal, on the grounds that it would be perceived as a White House attack on science.

Even Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House strategist who views Mr. Happer as “the climate hustler’s worst nightmare — a world-class physicist from the nation’s leading institution of advanced learning, who does not suffer fools gladly,” is apprehensive about what Mr. Happer is trying to do.

“The very idea will start a holy war on cable before 2020,” he said. “Better to win now and introduce the study in the second inaugural address.”

But at a White House meeting on May 1, at which the skeptical advisers made their case, Mr. Trump appeared unpersuaded, people familiar with the meeting said. Mr. Happer, they said, is optimistic that the panel will go forward.

William Happer, who serves on the National Security Council, is pushing to create a climate review panel that would question scientific consensus. Credit: Pool photo by Albin Lohr-Jones

The concept is not new. Mr. Trump has pushed to resurrect the idea of a series of military-style exercises, known as “red team, blue team” debates, on the validity of climate science first promoted by Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator who was forced to resign last year amid multiple scandals.

At the time, the idea was shot down by John F. Kelly, then the White House chief of staff. But since Mr. Kelly’s departure, Mr. Trump has talked about using Mr. Happer’s proposed panel as a forum for it.

For Mr. Trump, climate change is often the subject of mockery. “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!” he posted on Twitter in January when a snowstorm was freezing much of the country.

His views are influenced mainly by friends and donors like Carl Icahn, the New York investor who owns oil refineries, and the oil-and-gas billionaire Harold Hamm — both of whom pushed Mr. Trump to deregulate the energy industry.

Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka made a well-publicized effort to talk him out of leaving the Paris accord in 2017. But after being vanquished by officials including Mr. Bannon, Mr. Pruitt, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II, there is little evidence she has resisted his approach since then.

The president’s advisers amplify his disregard. At the meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismayed fellow diplomats by describing the rapidly warming region as a land of “opportunity and abundance” because of its untapped reserves of oil, gas, uranium, gold, fish and rare-earth minerals. The melting sea ice, he said, was opening up new shipping routes.

“That is one of the most crude messages one could deliver,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who served as the NATO ambassador under George W. Bush.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismayed fellow diplomats by describing the Arctic as a land of “opportunity and abundance” as a consequence of global warming. Credit: Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At the National Security Council, under Mr. Bolton, officials said they had been instructed to strip references to global warming from speeches and other formal statements. But such political edicts pale in significance to the changes in the methodology of scientific reports.

Mr. Reilly, the head of the Geological Survey, who does not have a background in climate change science, characterized the changes as an attempt to prepare more careful, accurate reports. “We’re looking for answers with our partners and to get statistical significance from what we understand,” he said.

Yet scientists said that by eliminating the projected effects of increased carbon dioxide pollution after 2040, the Geological Survey reports would present an incomplete and falsely optimistic picture of the impact of continuing to burn unlimited amounts of coal, oil and gasoline.

“The scenarios in these reports that show different outcomes are like going to the doctor, who tells you, ‘If you don’t change your bad eating habits, and you don’t start to exercise, you’ll need a quadruple bypass, but if you do change your lifestyle, you’ll have a different outcome,’” said Katharine Hayhoe, the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University and an author of the National Climate Assessment.

Not all government science agencies are planning such changes. A spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asked if its scientists would limit the use of climate models, wrote in an email, “No changes are being considered at this time.”

The push to alter the results of at least some climate science reports, several officials said, came after November’s release of the second volume of the National Climate Assessment.

While the Trump administration did not try to rewrite the scientific conclusions of the report, officials sought to play it down — releasing it the day after Thanksgiving — and discredit it, with a White House statement calling it “largely based on the most extreme scenario.”

This summer, the E.P.A. is expected to finalize the legal rollback of two of President Barack Obama’s most consequential policies: regulations to curb planet-warming pollution from vehicles and power plants. Credit: George Etheredge for The New York Times

Still, the report could create legal problems for Mr. Trump’s agenda of abolishing regulations. This summer, the E.P.A. is expected to finalize the legal rollback of two of President Barack Obama’s most consequential policies: federal regulations to curb planet-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes and power plant smokestacks.

Opponents say that when they challenge the moves in court, they intend to point to the climate assessment, asking how the government can justify the reversals when its own agencies have concluded that the pollution will be so harmful.

That is why officials are now discussing how to influence the conclusions of the next National Climate Assessment.

“They’ve started talking about how they can produce a report that doesn’t lead to some silly alarmist predictions about the future,” said Myron Ebell, who heads the energy program at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an industry-funded research organization, and who led the administration’s transition at the E.P.A.

A key change, he said, would be to emphasize historic temperatures rather than models of future atmospheric temperatures, and to eliminate the “worst-case scenarios” of the effect of increased carbon dioxide pollution — sometimes referred to as “business as usual” scenarios because they imply no efforts to curb emissions.

Scientists said that eliminating the worst-case scenario would give a falsely optimistic picture. “Nobody in the world does climate science like that,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton. “It would be like designing cars without seatbelts or airbags.”

Outside the United States, climate scientists had long given up on the White House being anything but on outlier in policy. But they worry about the loss of the government as a source for reliable climate research.

“It is very unfortunate and potentially even quite damaging that the Trump administration behaves this way,” said Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “There is this arrogance and disrespect for scientific advancement — this very demoralizing lack of respect for your own experts and agencies.”

A version of this article appears in print on May 27, 2019, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Climate Fight, Trump Will Put Science on Trial.
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    Scientists’ Climate Accountability Scorecard – Insufficient Progress from Major Fossil Fuel Companies

    Repost from Union of Concerned Scientists
    [Editor: This detailed 24-page Union of Concerned Scientists report should be required reading for every oil executive, refinery employee and oil industry supporter.  It would have been VERY interesting to see Valero included in the industry sample.  Our neighbors in Richmond (Chevron) and Rodeo/Hercules (Phillips66) will be especially interested in this report.  – R.S.]

    The 2018 Climate Accountability Scorecard – Insufficient Progress from Major Fossil Fuel Companies

     

    An in-depth analysis of eight major fossil fuel companies finds they continue to spread climate disinformation and have failed to adequately plan their businesses for a low-carbon world.

     

    Fossil fuel companies are facing increasing shareholder, legal and political pressure to stop spreading climate disinformation and to fix their business plans to achieve dramatic reductions in global warming emissions. While some companies are responding to this pressure, overall their efforts remain insufficient to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

    In 2016, when we first analyzed the actions of 8 major oil, gas, and coal companies, we found that none had made a clean break with disinformation on climate science and policy or planned adequately for a world free from carbon pollution.

    In 2018, although some companies have publicly supported the Paris climate agreement to limit harmful warming, none of these companies has set company-wide emissions reduction targets consistent with this goal. Many continue to downplay or misrepresent climate science and the dangers of carbon emissions, and all continue to support trade groups that spread climate disinformation and work to stymie needed climate policies.

    We evaluated eight companies on 28 metrics, organized in four broad areas:

    • Disinformation: Have these companies stopped spreading disinformation about climate science and policies?
    • Business Planning:  Do these companies’ business plans align with a world free from carbon pollution?
    • Policies:  Do these companies support fair and effective climate policies?
    • Disclosure:  Are these companies fully disclosing the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations?

    Findings

    While every company improved its score on at least one metric and saw a score decline on one or more other metrics, there was no across-the-board improvement on any specific metric, and no single company improved in every area.

    Explore each company’s score per metric in the table below. Colors indicate scores. Arrows indicate changes in each company’s performance compared to the 2016 Climate Accountability Scorecard. 

    Methodology > 

    Highlights

    • Following engagement with Barnard College over its divestment evaluation and with UCS over our 2018 scorecard findings, BP removes from the company’s website a statement that misrepresented climate science and backslid from its 2016 position.
    • Arch Coal, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil include subtle “hedging” words on their websites and/or in SEC filings, falsely suggesting the (scientific) jury is still out on the connections between global warming gases and climate change and between the burning of fossil fuels and climate impacts such as sea level rise.
    • Facing growing pressure from major shareholders, ExxonMobil and Chevron release climate risk disclosure reports. However, the reports lack commitments to reduce global warming emissions in line with the Paris climate agreement’s goal of keeping global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius and striving to limit it to 1.5°C.
    • BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil fail to mention climate liability litigation explicitly in their financial filings. More than a dozen U.S. communities have filed lawsuits to hold these fossil fuel companies, and others, accountable for climate damages and preparedness. Company shareholders need to be informed about this risk to their investments.
    • In July 2018, ExxonMobil becomes the latest oil and gas company to leave the corporate lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after successfully pressuring the group to drop a resolution against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2009 finding that global warming gases are endangering the planet. ALEC has notoriously fought climate policies and drafted sample legislation that sought to hamper the development and use of low-carbon energy. Chevron and Peabody Energy maintain leadership positions in the group.
    • Shareholder pressure leads ConocoPhillips in 2018 to expand its disclosures of lobbying and other public policy advocacy. 

    Recommendations

    Major fossil fuel companies—including those studied in this 2018 scorecard—are substantial contributors to climate change, and therefore must take responsibility for their actions. Science now makes it possible to calculate that the eight companies in this study have contributed about 14 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide and methane emissions driving disruptive climate change.

    These eight leading fossil fuel companies have failed to fix their business models to reduce global warming emissions from their operations and the use of their products.  At the same time, many of them have deliberately sowed public confusion about climate science and the dangers of climate change, while lobbying against needed climate policies that would help us transition to a low-carbon energy system.

    These fossil fuel companies should:

    • Renounce disinformation on climate science and policy
    • Plan for a world free from carbon pollution, developing business models that are consistent with keeping global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed by world leaders
    • Support sensible climate policies to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases
    • Fully disclose climate-related risks to their business
    • Pay their fair share of the costs of climate-related damages and climate change adaptation

    As a first step toward meeting emerging societal expectations, each company in this study should:

    • If it is not yet doing so, consistently acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change and affirm the consequent need for swift and deep reductions in emissions from the burning of fossil fuels
    • Set company-wide, net-zero emissions targets consistent with the Paris climate agreement’s global temperature goal
    • Disavow positions and actions taken by affiliated third parties—including trade associations and lobby groups—that are inconsistent with companies’ stated positions on climate science and policy
    • Publicly and consistently advocate for specific policies and/or regulations to implement the Paris climate agreement
    • Fully disclose climate-related risks they face and how they are managing them—including physical risks to their operations and financial risks related to climate liability lawsuits

    UCS and our experts, partners, and supporters are watching. We will continue to keep a close eye on major fossil fuel companies to assess their actions and words, recognize progress where it occurs, and turn up the heat on companies lagging behind.

    Appendices:

    Appendix A: Methodology > 

    Appendix B: Renouncing Disinformation on Climate Science and Policy > 

    Appendix C: Planning for a World Free of Carbon Pollution > 

    Appendix D: Supporting Fair and Effective Climate Policies > 

    Appendix E: Fully Disclosing Climate Risks > 

     

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      ‘Are You Serious?’ John Kerry Interrupts GOP Climate Denial Logic in Disbelief

      Repost from DESMOG

      By Justin Mikulka • Wednesday, April 10, 2019 – 13:27

      John Kerry

      Congressional discussions over climate change have reached such a low point that during this week’s House hearing on the national security risks of climate change, former Secretary of State John Kerry, who was testifying, broke down and just asked his Republican questioner, “Are you serious?”

      Kerry’s incredulous question was in response to Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, the GOP star of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, which also featured testimony from former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Kerry’s and Hagel’s testimonies were followed by several hours of, at times, excrutiating questioning from committee members.

      Republicans made a big show of the fact that Massie has an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The conflict with Kerry arose when Massie tried to undermine Kerry’s testimony on climate change because he has a political science degree from Yale.

      Massie said, “I think it’s somewhat appropriate that somebody with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience in front of our committee today.”

      If science degrees are important to Massie, he must have somehow missed the thousands of climate scientists around the world who have studiedpublishedtweetedmarched, and repeated that climate change is real, caused by humans, and having major impacts now.

      During this hearing, Massie wasn’t alone in displaying bizarre logic to attack science and the reality of climate change. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) apparently thought holding up a fossil disproved that humans are causing climate change.

      Climate change has been changing all through the life of this planet. I’ve got a fossil right here from Western Wyoming — a desert — but that once was under an ocean,” he said.

      That was the sum total of his argument.

      Not to be outdone, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) took issue with Kerry’s statement about global warming making existing weather events more extreme by noting: “I remember growing up and having hurricanes in Florida.”

      It all led to Secretary Kerry at one point expressing his frustration to committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), saying, “Mr. Chairman, this is just not a serious conversation.”

      And it was not when Republicans were part of it. However, when Hagel and Kerry both spoke, they made clear the point that climate change is a real national security threat and requires action. Meanwhile, the Republicans on the committee indicated they intend to do nothing but continue a long history of delay and denial on climate change.

      Hagel and Kerry Agree: Climate Change Threatens National Security

      Hagel and Kerry spent their time delivering a sober analysis of the risks climate change poses to national security — a position which they repeatedly stressed during the hearing. “Climate change is already affecting national security,” said Kerry.

      Kerry also noted in his opening statement that this has been the position of every federal administration for the last 28 years. He pointed to the first Bush administration, which said in 1992, that climate change was “already contributing to political conflict.”

      We don’t need to wait for more sophisticated climate models to project the security consequences of climate change,” Hagel said in his opening statement. “The impacts of climate change are clearly evident today.”

      Both Hagel and Kerry spoke extensively about the current and future threats posed by a changing climate and had plenty of examples to make the case.

      Among the many threats, Hagel discussed rising sea levels, extreme weather, and the lack of military readiness. Kerry raised the issues of climate migration, global pandemics, water scarcity, and extreme weather’s current contribution to radicalism, which he said would continue to create instability that would be “manna from heaven for extremists.”

      Perhaps the best single example of how climate change is impacting security in the U.S. can be found at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. This base — the largest American military base — already is dealing with flooding and sea level rise. At one point in the hearing, former defense secretary Hagel mentioned the need to potentially relocate the base in the future due to sea level rise.

      And yet when Republicans in the hearing had a chance to respond to this rather alarming fact, they spent that time mostly ridiculing the idea that any of this should even be discussed.

      Gas Is a ‘Bridge Fuel,’ Secretary Kerry?

      John Kerry was a strong advocate for dealing with climate change throughout the hearing and acknowledged the significant strides freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has already taken to advance the issue in her short congressional tenure.

      However, Kerry also proceeded to repeatedly champion a supposed climate change solution espoused by the fossil fuel industry and did so using industry talking points, referring to natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to climate-friendly energy sources.

      While saying that natural gas would be “a component of our energy mix for some time to come,” Kerry justified this position with a flawed argument for gas.

      Gas gives us a 50 percent gain over the other fossil fuels in the reduction of emissions, so it’s a step forward,” he said.

      Kerry’s take, which compares how “clean” natural gas is compared to other fossil fuels, is true when simply comparing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power to the newest gas power plants. However, that limited comparison excludes the ways natural gas production, and its potent methane contributions, are adding to climate change.

      The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to renewable sources has been debunked repeatedly. And as methane flaring, leaking, and venting in the fracked oil and gas supply chain continue to increase rapidly, the climate impacts of fracked gas can be similar or worse than other fossil fuels.

      Kerry and Hagel adeptly explained the serious national security threats posed by climate change. However, calling natural gas part of a long-term solution to preventing catastrophic climate change isn’t a serious conversation either.

      Main image: Former Secretary of State John Kerry addressing congress. Credit: Screenshot from Congressional testimony. 

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