Energy & Environment

Trump administration criticized over timing of climate change report


Environmentalists, journalists and lawmakers are among those criticizing the Trump administration for releasing a dire federal climate change report the day after Thanksgiving, when fewer Americans are likely to read the news.

The bombshell report, which warns of large-scale climate disasters if the U.S. continues down the track it’s headed, was released without much rollout midday Friday.

Known as Black Friday, it’s a day in which people are likely more concerned with shopping than national affairs. Late Friday in general is famous in Washington for being a “news dump,” in which an administration quietly releases less-than-optimal news.

“Obviously, they timed the release to get the minimum visibility,” Philip Duffy, an environmental scientist and president of the Woods Hole Research Center, told The Hill over the phone.

He added that they likely calculated to “let [the report] fly under the radar as much as possible, take the heat and move on.” 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of the president, in a tweet accused the administration of seeking to “bury a new report about the devastating consequences of climate change.”

“Why?” Sanders said in the tweet. “Because Trump’s actions are actively making it worse.” 

The report, the first of its kind released by the Trump administration, is the result of coordination by more than 300 federal and non-federal scientists. Its final product was reviewed by 13 federal agencies.

It is unequivocal in its warning that climate change will brutally harm the material lives of human beings, particularly those who are poor and marginalized, if political leaders don’t mobilize resources, energy and legislation towards resolving some of the rapidly intensifying issues. It finds that climate change could slash up to a tenth of the U.S. gross domestic product by 2100, with costs exceeding 100 billion dollars by the end of the century in some sectors. 

The report was originally set for release next month, but it was made public to the surprise of many this week.    

David Easterling, director of the National Centers for Environmental Information Technical Support Unit, told reporters in a phone call that the release date was moved up because its authors felt it “would be a topic of discussion” at two international conferences coming up.
“We wanted to get this out sufficiently in advance of those meetings to ensure that folks have a chance to review it,” Easterling said.
Easterling declined to answer questions from reporters who asked if the White House weighed in on the report’s release date. Easterling and Virginia Burkett, the acting chair of the subcommittee on Global Change Research, repeatedly declined to answers about the release date.
The White House did not respond to The Hill’s questions about the timing of the report’s release. In a statement, spokesperson Lindsay Walters touted the U.S.’s forward motion on reducing carbon emissions and pointed out the report was assembled in part during the Obama administration. The assessment has been in the works for three years. 
Walters added that the report is “largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends.” The U.S. Global Change Research Program did not immediately respond to The Hill’s requests for comment.
But environmentalists on Twitter amplified the report’s findings, saying it should not be lost in the deluge.  

“This is the National Climate Assessment that the White House does not want you to read (by releasing on Black Friday),” Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, wrote on Twitter. “We must act now to protect communities, economy, water, public health, ecosystems, agriculture, infrastructure, etc.” 

Jane Mayer, a veteran journalist at The New Yorker, wrote that the day after Thanksgiving is “notorious in the media as the single best time to bury bad news,” adding that it shouldn’t be “snuffed out.”

Katherine Hayhoe, one of the authors of the report, pushed back on Walters’s statement that the report represented the “most extreme scenario,” calling it “demonstrably false.”

“I wrote the climate scenarios chapter myself so I can confirm it considers ALL scenarios, from those where we go carbon negative before end of century to those where carbon emissions continue to rise,” she tweeted.

The Trump administration has come under fire from countless environmental groups who denounce its policies and rhetoric on climate change as negligent or even downright dangerous. Trump and his top officials have multiple times downplayed the extent to which human activity causes climate change and whether or not it really exists, both directly at odds with the report’s findings. 

Trump on Wednesday made a statement casting doubt on the issue of global warming, which the report emphatically states is a real and pressing issue. In the midst of a cold snap, Trump tweeted, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” 

The report finds that the Earth’s global average temperature is the highest it has ever been in recorded history, increasing by around 1.8 degrees over the last century.

Environmental journalist John Upton tweeted that the report, “cynically released by Trump Admin on Black Friday,” shows that the U.S. is tackling climate change “too slowly to protect humanity from unimaginable dangers.” 

Others in the environmental community used the report to step up calls for the government to take action.

“The Trump Administration has repealed climate policy but it cannot stop the impacts of climate change from harming American communities,” Lou Leonard, the World Wildlife Fund’s senior vice president for climate change and energy, said in a statement to the Hill. “Ultimately, the federal government needs to come back into the game.” 

Duffy said it is “a government report from start to finish – the process, most of the contributors, the approval process and the release.”

“And yet the high-level policies of the administration are just completely at odds with what’s in this report, and other similar reports,” he continued. “So it does make you wonder – obviously, if they’re not basing their policies on the science that’s coming out of our own government, what are they basing it off of?” 

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