Trump deaf to dire U.S. climate warning

AS A COLD SPELL SETTLED ACROSS PARTS OF the U.S. over the Thanksgiving holiday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter with a question he shouldn’t need to ask: “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” he mused on Nov. 21. Two days later, scientists working for 13 agencies across his Administration gave Trump a stark reminder. The climate—which, despite the President’s question, is not the same thing as the daily weather—remains very much in peril, and its warming threatens the welfare of the U.S. That finding, which came as part of a longplanned and congressionally mandated report, underscores the reality of climate change during the Trump presidency. The President may not “believe” in climate change or understand the science behind it, but he cannot control its political, economic and scientific consequences. And those consequences are bleak.

The report, known as the National Climate Assessment, runs to more than 1,000 pages and is the work of more than 300 authors who break down climate change’s impacts across the country. The phenomenon has already damaged infrastructure and ecosystems in communities across the U.S.—and, barring dramatic action, that’s just the beginning. Weather events will get more extreme, new climate conditions will allow for the spread of disease, and factors such as reduced agricultural output will shave hundreds of billions of dollars off U.S. economic growth by the end of the century.

In short, the effects of warming “threaten the health and well-being of the American people” and “disrupt many areas of life, exacerbating existing challenges and revealing new risks,” says David Easterling, a report author and scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But the warning fell flat for Trump. “I don’t believe it,” he said when asked about the findings. The baseless response—climate change is a matter of fact, not opinion—was unsurprising from a political leader who has in the past dismissed the idea that humans are causing global warming as a “hoax” and promised to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, the landmark 2015 accord on the issue. Indeed, the White House faced questions about whether it had tried to bury the report by moving its release from mid-December to the Friday after Thanksgiving at the last minute. Although officials on a press call suggested that change in timing was an effort to get ahead of upcoming climate-related conferences, they declined to say directly whether the White House had ordered the Black Friday release.

NO MATTER THE White House’s rejection of climate change, the report’s authors minced no words about what needs to be done to mitigate its impact: “immediate and substantial global greenhouse-gas emissions reductions.” That global is key. Trump is the most prominent leader to deny the science, but many countries that endorse climate science are also falling behind in the effort to address it. A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released just days after the National Climate Assessment showed that the majority of G-20 countries aren’t following through on their own promises to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. Even if they did, the report finds, the world would fall short of limiting temperature rise to safe levels. Collectively, countries would need to increase their commitments fivefold to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C, according to the report.

The National Climate Assessment and the UNEP publication are the latest in a string of important climate reports to capture the headlines in recent months. Most significantly, an analysis from the U.N.’s climate-science body released in October showed that the consequences of temperatures rising more than that 1.5°C threshold would be catastrophic for many parts of the world.

The good news is that the same reports that sound the alarm also lay out pathways to deal with the issue. A strong price on carbon, implemented through a measure such as a carbon tax, could cut emissions by 40% in some countries, UNEP found. And the U.S. climate assessment lists everything from expanding renewables to capturing and storing carbon dioxide as possible fixes.

Most directly, climate scientists and environmental advocates hope that the reports will build momentum ahead of the U.N. climate-change conference in Poland in December. Diplomats from nearly 200 countries need to reach agreement on a slew of technical issues to implement the Paris Agreement and keep it from fading in relevance. “We do have a possibility to have a positive outcome,” Patricia Espinosa, head of the U.N.’s climate-change body, told TIME about the upcoming negotiations. But “we are still facing a lot of challenges, and one of them is the lack of time.” Meanwhile, humans will continue to feel the effects of a hotter planet. On Nov. 27, the World Meteorological Organization warned of at least a 75% chance that El Niño, a natural ocean-warming phenomenon that scientists say is worsened by climate change, will strike again next year. This won’t be the last time we feel the impact of our planetary problem, and it’s only likely to get worse.

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