That Federal Climate Change Report May Not Be New, But It Is Startling

“Evidence for a changing climate abounds."

WASHINGTON — Contrary to President Donald Trump and his team’s repeated claims, government scientists agree that climate change is already having a dramatic effect in the U.S.

In a nearly 700-page draft report, scientists from 13 federal agencies conclude that the planet has rapidly warmed over the last 150 years, triggering “many other changes to Earth’s climate,” and find it “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” states the fifth and final draft of the report, still under review and posted this week by The New York Times.

“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. Rainfall patterns and storms are changing and the occurrence of droughts is shifting,” the report reads. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible for the observed climate changes in the industrial era, especially over the last six decades.”

The draft, completed this year and part of the National Climate Assessment, has already been approved by the National Academy of Sciences, according to the Times. Its official release hinges on the Trump administration’s approval.

On Monday, the Times published a story about a previous third draft, which it said had not been made public. One scientist who worked on the report told the Times that he and others feared the president would withhold it. On Wednesday, however, the Times issued a correction noting that, while “not widely publicized, the report was uploaded by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January.”

Indeed, the third draft of the report — which the Times based its article on — has been available for months and was even open for public comment, as co-authors pointed out on Twitter. It also continues to be available by request from the National Academy of Sciences.

The Times subsequently published the fifth and final draft.

Katharine Hayhoe, a co-author of the report and professor of political science at Texas Tech University, told HuffPost in an email Wednesday that the fifth draft is undergoing its final interagency review, which ends Aug. 18. The final draft, she said, differs from the third in that it includes revisions made in response to the National Academy of Sciences review.

“While the substantive messages did not change between the 3rd and 5th drafts, responses to NAS comments included adding new figures and references, expanding some sections of the text, and condensing others,” she wrote.

According to the latest draft, scientists predict the average annual temperature will continue to rise throughout the century. Over the next two decades alone, global temperatures could increase between 0.5 and 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

With “very high confidence,” the scientists concluded that the “magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases emitted globally and on the remaining uncertainty in the sensitivity of Earth’s climate to those emissions.”

Since 1880, global sea levels have risen 8 to 9 inches, according to the draft report.

In a post to Twitter, Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that nothing in the report is surprising for people working in the field but that it may be “shocking to those that think [climate change] is just a future problem.”

The report delivers a strikingly different message than the one being pushed by Trump and his Cabinet members, who continue to downplay the urgency of the threat as they work toward “energy dominance.” Since taking office, Trump — who famously called climate change “bullshit” and a Chinese “hoax” — has moved quickly to derail America’s actions to combat climate change, including rolling back President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a policy limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump has pegged himself as a savior of America’s dying coal industry and has vowed to increase oil and gas production, opening now-protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to drilling.

In June he announced plans to pull the U.S. out of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change ― the international accord in which nearly 200 countries committed to slashing carbon emissions in an effort to prevent global temperatures from increasing 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the line scientists say the world must stay below to stave off the very worst effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, his Cabinet members have refused to say whether Trump believes climate change is real and continue to question how much the scientific community understands about the threat and the role humans play in observed changes.

In March, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt told CNBC, “No, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” And in June, Energy Secretary Rick Perry echoed Pruitt’s comments, saying “no” when asked by CNBC whether he believes carbon dioxide “is the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and for climate.”

“Most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in,” Perry said. “I mean, the fact is, this shouldn’t be a debate about, ‘Is the climate changing? Is man having an effect on it?’ Yeah, we are. The question should be, you know, just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to affect that?”

Perry went on to defend his and others’ denial of near-universally accepted climate science, suggesting that those who question the scientific community’s findings are more intelligent.

Also in June, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park started melting “right after the end of the Ice Age” and that it has “been a consistent melt.” He also dismissed the notion that government scientists can predict with certainty how much warming will occur by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario.

How the Trump administration decides to handle the report remains to be seen. The EPA and 12 other agencies have until Aug. 18 to approve the report.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, federal scientists were discouraged from talking about climate change and even had climate change research altered.

This article has been updated throughout to reflect the New York Times’ correction about the draft version of the climate change report.

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