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Narragansett Bay is Being Impacted by Climate Change; Scott Pruitt’s EPA Says Scientists Can’t Talk About it

Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier who was tapped to head the EPA by a similarly myopic Trump Administration now appears to be wielding the powers of that government agency to suppress the voices of climate scientists.

A report out of the New York Times yesterday found that three scientists scheduled to discuss the impacts of human-caused climate change on the sensitive environment of Narragansett Bay were barred from speaking in a panel discussion today. The scientists are employees of the EPA and contributors to a 400 page report on the health of Narragansett Bay. The study found numerous climate change related impacts to the Bay region — which is a vital economic resource and home to more than 2 million people.

The study found that:

“Climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and fish in the Narragansett Bay region.”

The EPA, presently headed by Scott Pruitt, gave no reason why the scientists were barred from sharing their climate change related findings at the panel. An agency charged with protecting the clean air and water of the United States, the EPA has likely never housed an administrator so at odds with its institutional mission. Pruitt has opposed numerous agency actions and has worked throughout his career to undermine both the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Laws that aim to protect American citizens and wildlife from the harmful health impacts of polluted water and damaging particulates in the air.

Pruitt has also received criticism recently for spending $25,000 for a sound proof booth to mask his communications with who knows who, using considerable government funds to pay for round-the-clock personal security, and individually spending more than $58,000 for private charter jet flights.

(Scott Pruitt’s numerous ties to climate change denial and fossil fuel industries. Image source: Desmogblog.)

Pruitt was also one of a number of lawyers who directly challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gasses in an effort to protect the U.S. from the harmful impacts of climate change during the Obama Administration. Pruitt has received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and is the direct beneficiary of strong political support from climate change denial promoting agencies like the Heartland Institute.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) stated his opposition to this week’s nonsensical censoring of EPA funded scientists stating:

“Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets and the EPA won’t let its scientists talk with local leaders to plan for its future. Whatever you think about climate change, this kind of collaboration should be a no-brainer. Muzzling our leading scientists benefits no one.”

Links:

EPA Cancels Talk on Climate Change by Agency Scientists

Furor Erupts over EPA Decision to Pull Scientists From Panel Discussion

Desmogblog

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

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An Agenda Harmful to the American People

Farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Texas and California’s Central Valley know that the weather is getting worse. They know that droughts are intensifying, floods are more severe, and wildfires are growing larger as the years steadily warm. Coastal dwellers in Nantucket, Virginia Beach, Cape Hatteras, Myrtle Beach, Miami and the lowlands of Louisiana know that the seas are rising. They know that tidal and storm flooding takes more land and property with each passing year. And those who live in the far north, in places like Barrow, Alaska, know that the glaciers and sea ice are melting.

(Harmful impacts to Americans from climate change are on the rise and the number of Americans concerned about climate change has never been higher. Image source: Gallup.)

Americans, in greater numbers than ever before, believe that climate change is real, that it is a threat to them, and that humans are the cause. The growing consensus on the matter from the U.S. populace does not match the 97 percent or more of climate scientists who are very concerned about the issue, but the 68 percent of Americans who believe that global warming is occurring and is caused by humans cuts a stark contrast with the person who is now the sitting President of the United States.

Obama’s Helpful Response

The world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1880s. We see the effects of that warming all around us. All across this country, lives, property and livelihoods are under increasing threat from a climate fundamentally changed by fossil fuel burning. However, the warming we’ve already experienced is the early, easy warming. The warming that lies ahead is of a much more difficult caliber. In other words, a blow is coming at us all. We can’t completely stop it at this point — it’s too late for that, we’ve coddled the fossil-fuel special interests for far too long — but we can soften it.

President Barack Obama tried to help the American people do just that. He established fuel efficiency standards aimed at inspiring innovation among America’s corporations. Such innovation would put them at the forefront of new technology that could help wean our country off oil dependency. By 2025, most vehicles were to have average mileage standards of 54.5 mpg, the implication being that a large portion of U.S. vehicles would be electric by then. At the same time, Obama pushed to shift U.S. power generation away from coal, and more toward wind and solar. These combined efforts would have cut U.S. carbon emissions across the entire economy 26 percent by 2025. They would have generated a leaner, meaner U.S. economy better suited to compete in a world whose constituents increasingly demand clean energy, and better able to face the harms coming down the pipe from human-caused climate change.

Fossil Fuel, Petrostate Interference in Global Democracies

The fossil fuel interests of the world — including both corporations and states suffering from economic dependence on fossil fuel revenues — did not at all like the new policies coming out of the U.S. The United States, as a global leader promoting renewable energy and responses to climate change, was fully capable of spearheading a global energy transition. Under Obama, the beginning of such a transition happened. Solar cell production multiplied, wind farms proliferated, clean energy costs fell, electrical vehicles hit the markets in increasing numbers, and net energy use per person fell, all while economies grew. In part due to exceptional American leadership, the U.S. trend toward cleaner energy repeated itself around the world. Meanwhile, demand for dirty fossil fuels began to lag. People began to talk widely about leaving a large portion of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, unused. Coal interests experienced mass bankruptcies. And oil and gas markets grew ever more uncertain.

(As government policies supporting renewable energy proliferated, prices dropped and production boomed. In other words, positive policy on the part of the world’s governments produced a renewable energy revolution — much to the ire of fossil-fuel special interests. Image source: Clean Technica.)

Powerful interests associated with fossil fuels, who already held amazing influence over the world’s political bodies, began to fight back. In Europe, this came in the form of right-wing politicians apparently backed by the espionage campaigns of an expansionist and resurgent Russia. Meanwhile, Russian aggression surged into Ukraine and even at times threatened wind production in the Baltic Sea. In the U.S., fossil-fuel-backing Republicans like James Inhofe and Scott Pruitt fought to remove key government policies promoting climate action. But consistent U.S. climate policy managed to hang on.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump — achieved in part through the Russian petrostate’s cyber-warfare campaign against the U.S. electoral system — all the progress achieved by the Obama Administration is in doubt.

A Cadre of Fossil Fuel Backers, Climate Change Deniers, and Ties to Russia 

Trump has placed Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department, fired top career diplomats, and placed political cronies into key roles. Tillerson has failed to recuse himself in the case of interests related to Exxon — a key element of which were Obama-era sanctions that prevented Exxon partnering with Russia in developing oil fields in the Arctic. Trump’s chief national security adviser Michael Flynn — now identified as being employed as a foreign agent for Turkey at the time (it is illegal for a foreign agent to hold a position as part of the U.S. government) — was found to be secretly conferring with Russia (allegedly about the removal of said sanctions) before he himself was forced out of the post.

(Former Bush ethics lawyer weighs in on Michael Flynn failing to register himself as a foreign agent. Video source: CNN.)

Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, a politician who has for many years denied that the world is warming and that humans are the cause, now heads an agency he often sued. Pruitt is well-known for his attacks on government action to reduce the impacts of climate change and for receiving considerable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Almost immediately after coming to head the EPA, Pruitt stocked top offices at the agency with well-known climate change deniers, many of whom were once staffers of Congress’s chief climate change denier — James Inhofe.

Attack on CAFE Standards

As Trump fills key policy-making positions with fossil-fuel industry chiefs, climate change deniers, and people with odd ties to the Russian petrostate, he is moving to kill off Obama’s signature climate actions. This week, Trump appears ready to announce a rollback of Obama’s fuel efficiency standards. Such a move would put a damper on U.S. electric car production just as competitive foreign automakers are jumping into the EV market with both feet. The threatened rollbacks could also cost consumers an extra $2,600 in fuel over a vehicle’s lifetime, harm U.S. energy security, and result in more carbon dumped into the atmosphere. According to the New York Times:

[Obama’s] rules have been widely praised by environmentalists and energy economists for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse pollution. If put fully into effect, the fuel efficiency standards would have cut oil consumption by about 12 billion barrels and reduced carbon dioxide pollution by about six billion tons over the lifetime of all the cars affected by the regulations (emphasis added).

Though it would take about a year to remove Obama’s policy, and though it is likely that states like California (along with nine other states pushing automakers to increase EV availability) will fight the measure, this change in direction comes at a critical time for the world’s climate, right when harmful impacts from climate change are hitting the American people harder and harder.

Removal of Clean Electricity Goals

Trump’s early moves against U.S. fuel efficiency standards (and by extension energy and climate security) are, unfortunately, just the first subset of a two-pronged effort. Trump is also expected to direct a denier-stacked EPA to dismantle Obama’s clean electrical power regulations — rules aimed at incentivizing wind, solar, and lower carbon forms of fossil fuels while shutting down highly polluting coal power plants. Obama’s actions would have sped renewable energy expansion while cutting U.S. carbon emissions by 26 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2025. But if Trump’s new proposals go through, an extra 2 billion tons of CO2-equivalent gasses could be coming from U.S. smokestacks and tailpipes by that time.

G20 Promotes ‘Market Magic’ as Solution to Climate Change

Trump’s policy moves also appear to be aimed at hollowing out international actions on climate change. A recent draft of the upcoming G-20 Summit, a meeting of finance ministers from the world’s top 20 industrialized nations, backed away from key commitments to combat climate change. The G-20’s preliminary policy statement removed language supporting the Paris Climate treaty (only 47 words address the treaty now as opposed to 163 words in 2016), appears to have reneged on $100 billion worth of commitments from wealthy nations to fund renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions cuts, and relies on “multilateral development banks to raise private funds to accomplish goals set under the 2015 Paris climate accord.”

John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto’s G-20 Research Group, in an interview with Bloomberg noted that the new policy statement “…basically says governments are irrelevant. It’s complete faith in the magic of the marketplace. That is very different from the existing commitments they have repeatedly made.”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s appointed treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is the U.S. lead for G-20-related climate policy, so this new direction for the G-20 can’t entirely be separated from Trump or from his former Goldman Sachs employee Treasury Secretary.

Worsening Climate Situation

All these prospective national and global climate policy reversals come as the climate situation continues to worsen and damages from climate change related disasters escalate. We are currently in the process of warming from 1.2 C (present global temperature departure) above 1880s averages to 2 C above average. The amount of damage coming from this next degree of warming will be considerably more than the amount of damage that occurred as we warmed from 0.5 to 1.2 C above average from the 1980s to now.

(According to reinsurer Munich Re, the number of natural disasters has more than doubled since the early 1980s. Growth in the number of natural disasters all come from meteorological events, hydrological events, and climatological events — all which are influenced by warming global temperatures. Image source: Munich Re.)

The U.S. and every other nation in the world is now seeing a clear and present danger coming from climate change as natural disasters ramp up. In other words, the climate change related fire is already burning. And the Trump Administration appears set to throw more fuel on that fire. We can say with complete certainty that these policies represent a political agenda that is harmful to the American people. And we should resist this harmful agenda at every turn.

Let’s be Very Clear — 100 Percent (or More) of Recent Warming was Caused By Humans

“We actually have high confidence that the warming that is happening now is not natural cycle. If anything, over the past few decades, nature has tried to cool us off a little bit… The sun has dimmed just a little bit. We have blocked the sun with particles from our smokestacks just a little bit. And yet it has warmed. If you were to ask how much of the warming that we see recently has been caused by our greenhouse gasses, it’s a little more than all of it (emphasis added).” — Dr Richard Alley

*****

To say that scientists, as a group, tend to be cautious is probably the understatement of the Century. In most cases, this caution is beneficial — preventing outrageous assertions regarding key issues and providing a stable basis for developing rational policy.

(Dr. Richard Alley, Dr Michael Mann, and Dr Johnathan Brockopp discuss the extent of the global warming crisis without false equivalency given to climate change deniers. Video source: Conversations — Live Climate Change.)

But when it comes to confronting climate change deniers, such caution and reticence has often been exploited by the fossil fuel interests and their political backers who tend to make intentionally deceptive arguments aimed at casting doubt on scientific findings. Just as Scott Pruitt, a man who has fought helpful emissions regulations by EPA at the behest of the fossil fuel industry for most of his legal career, did last week on CNBC’s Squawk Box when he said:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s [CO2] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Playing Disingenuous and Intentionally Deceptive Word Games

Pruitt’s statement was made with a pretty obvious intent to cast fallacious doubt on established scientific findings. It was deceptive. And it aimed at highlighting perceived, but not actual, uncertainties in the science. It ultimately perpetrated a logical fallacy of consistency (argument based on false equivalency). Such fallacies tend to exploit seeming gray areas in established understanding in order to cast doubt on solid evidence. In this case, to create a false sense that counter arguments against the scientific basis for CO2 as a heat trapping gas have equal weight to the actual science.

In the end, the perception of uncertainty is what false and fallacious arguments like Pruitt’s seek to generate. And these arguments often aim to exploit the fact that overarching scientific consensus statements seldom claim 100 percent certainty, even though findings, especially in the case of climate change, are highly accurate.

In one example, more than 97 percent of scientists agree that global warming is caused by humans. This consensus is among the strongest for any scientific finding. However, the most recent IPCC report found that:

“It is extremely likely [defined as 95-100% certainty] that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic [human-caused] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”

This statement, at its face value is a strong validation for the human warming consensus. However, it provides a bit of a linguistic loop-hole in the phrase — ‘more than half’ — which seems to imply that almost half of the warming Earth has experienced was caused by something other than human activity. This apparent but false uncertainty is the kind of statement that people like Pruitt, who use deceptive argumentation, tend to latch onto. And if a person were to make the conclusion that nearly 50 percent of warming was not caused by humans and that the ultimate cause of warming is therefore in doubt, then it would be a false one.

More Than 100 Percent of Recent Warming Caused By Humans, CO2 Earth’s Primary Temperature Control Knob

(Most recent warming attribution studies find that more than 100 percent of the atmospheric heat gain we’ve seen during the past 50-65 years was caused by human activity such as fossil fuel burning. Image source: Skeptical Science.)

The truth is that IPCC made a very cautious statement. It has 95 to 100 percent confidence that more than 50 percent of warming has been caused by human activity. And the basis for this statement is that most studies find that while natural factors like solar activity are pushing the world to cool, the human forcing is strong enough to overcome that natural cooling trend and to set in place a very strong and unnatural warming trend instead. The science finds that without the greenhouse gas emissions coming chiefly from fossil fuel burning, the Earth would have seen slowly falling temperatures over the past 50-150 years.

Moreover, studies for the past 50-65 years almost universally attribute 100 percent or more of warming to human produced heat forcing. The above graphic, by Skeptical Science, shows a sample of new studies in which 99 to 170 percent of recent warming was attributed to human causes.

(According to IPCC, carbon dioxide is the primary heat trapping gas emitted by humans and is responsible for the majority of atmospheric warming. Meanwhile, NASA scientists find that this gas is the chief control knob governing Earth’s temperature.)

In addition, the lion’s share of the heat trapping, according to the science, can be attributed to one greenhouse gas — CO2. For NASA, along with pretty much every other major scientific body studying climate, finds that CO2 is Earth’s primary temperature control knob.

So when Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier and Trump’s pick for head of the EPA says that there’s a lot of uncertainty about CO2 and it’s not the primary source of warming and that it’s uncertain whether humans are a factor — he’s telling a lie. The science is very clear that warming is human caused, that probably more than 100 percent of warming has been driven by human activity, and that CO2 from fossil fuel emissions has been the cause of the majority of that warming.

But in addition to telling a lie Pruitt, as head of EPA, is committing malfeasance. For he is the head of the agency responsible for regulating harmful gasses like CO2 and for preventing the severe damage that will surely be inflicted upon the American public if these gasses continue to be released into Earth’s atmosphere.

Links:

CNBC’s Squawk Box

Skeptical Science

IPCC Fifth Assessment

CO2: Principal Control Knob Governing Earth’s Temperature

Hat tip to Erik

Hat tip to Cate

 

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