On November 3, 2017, the United States issued an exhaustive scientific report, titled the “Climate Science Special Report”, which acknowledges that human activity is a major cause of the temperature rise that has occurred over the past century. The climate science report is part of a Congressionally mandated review that occurs every four years known as the National Climate Assessment. The National Climate Assessment represents the findings and analyses of hundreds of experts and scientists from federal agencies, national laboratories, universities, and the private sector. The final work product was peer reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) served as the administrative lead agency for the preparation of the report along with a steering committee comprised of representatives from NOAA, NASA and DOE. The report represents the best scientific thinking of thirteen federal agencies. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy signed off on the final release of the report.
The report directly contradicts the Trump administration’s position on climate change. The United States has abandoned its commitment to the 195-nation Paris accord on climate change and many of the present administration’s high level appointments are climate change skeptics. Under the aegis of its administrator, Scott Pruitt, the EPA has erased from its website discussion about climate change and placed severe limitations on EPA scientists’ participation on scientific forums dealing with the subject. Rick Perry, the energy secretary, has stated that the “science is out” on whether humans cause climate change, although the DOE’s scientists apparently do not share the Secretary’s doubts.
Governmental policies are now in direct contravention to the government’s own science. The New York Times reported that Christopher Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, called that situation “tragic”. Field said, “This profoundly affects our ability to be leaders in developing new technologies and understanding how to build successful communities and businesses in the 21st century. Choosing to be dumb about our relationship with the natural world is to be behind the eight ball.”
At least one major player in the government, the Department of Defense, has not embraced the Trump administration’s skepticism about the need to develop alternative sources of clean energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In December 2013, I wrote an article discussing the Defense Department’s recognition of the challenges presented by global warming. As long ago as 2013 when I attended a meeting with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army and a West Point faculty member, if not earlier, the U.S. Army believed that its commitment to the development of clean domestic energy resources strengthened national security and played an important role in helping it to achieve its primary mission. As the world’s largest consumer of energy, the military’s recognition of the importance of reducing energy use and diversifying energy supplies, particularly beginning a shift from oil to alternative energy sources, has important ramifications for the economy and the environment. Equally important, the Defense Department understands that the denial of strong science evidence can cost American lives.
Remarkably, I learned from Army representatives in attendance at that meeting that it was the U.S. House of Representatives that was one of the Defense Department’s greatest obstacles in developing fossil fuel alternatives for the armed forces. The House voted to ban the Department of Defense from purchasing biofuels until they are cheaper than fossil fuels. Reportedly, there was also a move underway to prevent the Department of Defense from pursuing the development of advanced biofuels. According to participants at the meeting, these and other regressive House initiatives threaten to force the military to go backward, hurt national and economic security, and jeopardize fledgling American alternative energy industries. The issuance today of the special report on climate change represents an important advancement.