Sarah v. The Environment, Part 1: The Science
This week, we were treated to a battle of biblical proportions between Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sarah Huckabee Sanders over AOC's claim that the world will end in 12 years if we don't take drastic action to save the environment.1 AOC's claim was based on the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the Trump Administration on Black Friday, the better to bury it, my dear.2
According to the New York Times, "the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds....All told, the report says, climate change could slash up to a tenth of gross domestic product by 2100, more than double the losses of the Great Recession a decade ago."3
Ms. Sanders had several things to say about the report.4 Let’s look at them one by one.
"The report is based on the most extreme projections.”
Yes, the report was based on projections, and these projections are necessarily very complex. Everyone agrees that projections are not an exact science. But that doesn't mean they're not scientific.
The report uses two primary models, reflecting high (referred to as RCP8.5) and medium (RCP4.5) temperature increases. “RCP8.5 is generally associated with higher population growth, less technological innovation, and higher carbon intensity of the global energy mix. RCP4.5 is generally associated with lower population growth, more technological innovation, and lower carbon intensity of the global energy mix.”5 In other words, the models are projections factoring in the effects of human behavior on temperature change. Yes, that's right. How much the temperature increases depends, mostly on us. Will we take this environmental crisis seriously and change our policies and lifestyles to substantially reduce carbon emissions? And if so, how much? Accurate predictions aren't possible since human behavior and government policy can't be forecast with any precision. But what is clear is that the less we change, the more the environment will!
But things aren't looking good! As the report explains, "Which scenario is more likely? The observed acceleration in carbon emissions over the past 15–20 years has been consistent with the higher future scenarios (such as RCP8.5) considered in this assessment....
"To stabilize the global temperature at any level requires that emission rates decrease eventually to zero. To stabilize global average temperature at or below specific long-term warming targets such as 3.6°F (2°C), or the more ambitious target of 2.7°F (1.5°C), would require substantial reductions in net global carbon emissions relative to present-day values well before 2040, and likely would require net emissions to become zero or possibly negative later in the century." 7
Did you get that? "To stabilize the global temperature at any level requires that emission rates decrease eventually to zero." In other words, we have to stop emitting carbon at some point, or the earth will continue to get warmer! That will require a radical commitment to change our wasteful, destructive behavior!
There's another very interesting statement buried in the report, "Since 2014, however, the growth in emission rates of carbon dioxide has begun to slow as economic growth has become less carbon-intensive with the trend in 2016 estimated at near zero. Preliminary data for 2017, however, indicate growth in carbon emissions once again." 8 The report attributes this change to the economy. But looking at the dates, a suspicious coincidence becomes apparent. The decreases occurred between 2014 and 2016...under President Obama. And it's equally coincidental that emissions started increasing again in 2017. Hmmm. Perhaps a strong economy has had some effect. But it should be noted that from 2014 to 2016, due to strong emissions standards by the Obama Administration, carbon emissions actually fell, even with a strong economy!9 So this data tells us it is possible to achieve zero emissions, without sacrificing the health of the economy. It almost happened in 2016.
Enquiring minds can't help but suspect that a good share of the blame for the emissions increase in 2017 lies with a President who's appointed two sworn enemies of the environment to head the EPA, which has rolled back environmental regulations as fast as humanly possible, backed out of the Paris Accord, and continues to look the other way as Big Business destroys the environment to make Big Bucks.10 And with Trump's rejection of Obama's emissions regulations, you have to suspect it will get a lot worse very soon! 11
So, sorry Sarah, the projections aren't the problem, we are!
"The report is not based on facts."
Here's a complete list of government agencies involved the producing this report:
U.S. Global Change Research Program
National Science and Technology Council
Office of Management and Budget
Department of State
Department of the Interior
Department of Transportation
Health and Human Services Department
U.S. Agency for International Development
Department of Defense
Department of Agriculture
Department of Energy
Environmental Protection Agency
And here's what the report itself says about its sources:
"The vast majority of sources used in this report are from peer-reviewed scientific literature. A library of relevant and significant peer-reviewed scientific literature was developed through a survey of scientific journals and through submissions collected via a Federal Register Notice (FRN). The FRN,...called for the public to submit 'recent, relevant scientific and/or technical research studies including observed, modeled and/or projected climate science information that have been peer-reviewed and published or accepted for publication in scientific journals and/or government reports.' In addition, the FRN called for submission of information outside the scientific peer-reviewed literature, such as reports produced by nonprofit communities, but it noted that all information used in the report would need to comply with the IQA."12
HMM. All those agencies, all those scientists, all those peer-reviewed articles? And NO facts? No facts at all??
Just because it's such scintillating reading, let me quote a short random excerpt from the cited references in the chapter on Coastal Effects. Bear in mind I'm quoting only three out of over 120 citations. And that's just for one chapter out of 29.
"Barnard, P. L., A. D. Short, M. D. Harley, K. D. Splinter, S. Vitousek, I. L. Turner, J. Allan, M. Banno, K. R. Bryan, A. Doria, J. E. Hansen, S. Kato, Y. Kuriyama, E. Randall-Goodwin, P. Ruggiero, I. J. Walker, and D. K. Heathfield, 2015: Coastal vulnerability across the Pacific dominated by El Niño/Southern Oscillation. Nature Geoscience, 8 (10), 801–807. doi:10.1038/ngeo2539.
"Becker, A. H., P. Matson, M. Fischer, and M. D. Mastrandrea, 2015: Towards seaport resilience for climate change adaptation: Stakeholder perceptions of hurricane impacts in Gulfport (MS) and Providence (RI). Progress in Planning, 99, 1–49. doi:10.1016/j.progress.2013.11.002.
"Becker, A., A. Hippe, and E. Mclean, 2017: Cost and materials required to retrofit US seaports in response to sea level rise: A thought exercise for climate response. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, 5 (3), 44. doi:10.3390/jmse5030044."13
Is it clear to you yet that the Assessment is a hatchet-job by political activists designed to make the President look bad? With publications like "Nature Geoscience," and "Journal of Marine Science and Engineering." And those inflammatory, prejudicial article titles. I mean, really..."Coastal vulnerability across the Pacific dominated by El Niño/Southern Oscillation"? Obviously, far left-wing publications! The long list of names attached? Democratic operatives...no question!
No folks, no FACTS to see here!
"Trump has a solid record on clean air and water."
(LOUD GAME-SHOW "WRONG ANSWER" BUZZ!)
Yes, our air is cleaner than that of a lot of countries, due to the Clean Air Act, which Trump is doing his best to sabotage. 14 So, once again, President Trump is taking credit for something he had nothing to do with. And anyway, assessments of air and water quality don't measure the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.15 So Trump's record on air and water quality is completely irrelevant as a response to a Climate Change Assessment.
The President proudly proclaims our air is SO much better than China's. And, guess what--he's right! In China, some days you have to wear a pollution mask to leave the house! 16 You know why? Because we have environmental regulations, like the Clean Air Act. And because until very recently, China’s environmental regulations haven't been enforced. China's attitude in the past has been, "Get rich now, protect the environment later."17 Sound familiar? And since Trump has now indisputably demonstrated his intention to eviscerate environmental regulations, we can now become more like CHINA. Get your very own pollution mask, while supplies last!
Sorry, Sarah. I know it's your job to try to make your boss look good. But when the Emperor has no clothes, your best efforts at evasion, diversion and obfuscation aren't sufficient to disguise that fact. Although I do have to give you props for creativity!
Stay tuned for my next blog, where I'll discuss what God thinks about all this!
But in the meantime, in fairness, it has to be said we all bear responsibility for the dire condition of our environment. Our modern consumer-driven society is geared to consume, waste and pollute without considering the consequences. And our social and economic structure encompasses all of us. So what can we do?
There are numerous little things we can all do to minimize our negative effect on the environment, to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Here are a few ideas:
Recycle wherever possible.
Keep your house cooler in winter and warmer in summer
Turn off heat or AC when you go out.
Use public transportation when you can.
Give away belongings rather than throwing them away.
Use reusable bags when you shop.
Get a low-flow showerhead.
And equally importantly, we all have a responsibility to hold our government officials accountable for taking care of the earth. So contact your representatives to let them know the environment is important to you.