Scientists Fear Trump Administration Will Counter Climate Report

Aug 8, 2017
Originally published on August 8, 2017 7:24 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A comprehensive government report on the state of the climate is getting attention after it was leaked to The New York Times. It states that human activity is definitely the cause of most global warming, especially over the past 60 years. That runs counter to what President Trump and many of his top advisers have said. Here to talk with us about it is NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce. Hey, Chris.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about what's in the report.

JOYCE: This report is a compendium of all the science that we've done in the country - in the world, really - since 2013 that's new. And they're coming up with some information they didn't have before, things like more nuisance flooding - they can really see that - things like heat waves that they can actually attribute now to climate change where they couldn't before. So they're able to be more granular. They're able to tell us more about climate.

SHAPIRO: It comes out in the context of a White House that has been very skeptical of man-made climate change. Tell us how the politics are playing out.

JOYCE: Well, a lot of the authors - and I've talked to several of them over the past few months - have been very concerned about this. This report is supposed to come out every four years. It's been in progress for several years. They've been soldiering away, collecting the latest data. But after the election, obviously there was some concern.

Even President Obama put out an early draft right after the election in 2016 as sort of a way to say, look; I want people to know this is in process. So people are somewhat concerned. I don't know why it was leaked, but certainly it's a possibility that people thought, well, we should get it out so - in case it's not - in case it's suppressed.

SHAPIRO: Is there anything especially controversial in it that people are likely to disagree about?

JOYCE: Well, a lot of people in the Trump administration take issue with climate change - you know, have an issue from that start. There is a very strong statement in this report that says definitely climate change is being caused by humans. I mean the temperature's gone up 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, and they're saying with high confidence that it's all caused by humans. The scientists I talked to who've been involved in this report have told me that could be something quite contentious.

SHAPIRO: How has the White House responded?

JOYCE: The White House pointed out that this is a draft report. It's the fifth draft. It's not the final report. And they said they were, quote, "very disappointed," unquote, that The New York Times didn't come back to them and verify what was in it with the White House and federal agencies. And they pointed out actually correctly that some of this has been available in past months if you knew where to look. It's not that easy to find on the federal website. Beyond that, they said no comment.

SHAPIRO: Now that the report is out there, is there anything the White House can do?

JOYCE: Obviously this is - the science is out, and the science has been in the literature already. This is a - as I said, a compendium. So they can't suppress science that already exists. Of course they can contest it as they always have contested science. That will certainly cause some outrage.

But there is one thing that's I think important to mention here, and that is that the federal scientists who put this together - they're not just doing it to put information out there for people. They want local communities to understand what their risk is. They're finally at a point where the science is telling them, we are granular enough to say this is what's going to happen in Boca Raton; this is what's going to happen in Norfolk; this is what's going to happen in Corpus Christi or whatever.

And people need to know that, you know? Emergency planners need to know this. People who are building seawalls need to know what sea level rise is going to be. And so the authors of this report tell me that it would be a great pity if this information didn't go out to the people who really could use it.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Christopher Joyce, thanks a lot.

JOYCE: Glad to be here.

[Editor's note, Aug. 10: Since this story was broadcast, The New York Times has updated its coverage to reflect that a version of the climate change report was made available by the nonprofit Internet Archive in January.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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