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New York Times Releases Draft of Government Climate Report

| published August 8, 2017 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

On Monday night the New York Times published portions of a draft report by a panel of government agencies regarding climate change, the human carbon footprint, and the long term consequences of rising global temperatures. The report, which will undoubtedly face intense challenges from those who oppose many of its assertions and conclusions, may also face difficulty making its way past those within the administration of President Donald Trump who do not share the views made clear in the 550-page study.

The report, part of a larger package of studies titled officially The National Climate Assessment, once collated and completed, will face approval by President Trump. The section of the study published by the Times is titled “U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Change Special Report.” If the White House rejects the report, the findings of the study will not likely make its way into the mainstream of discussion.

Though the published segments are only in draft form, the much-anticipated report confirms what many scientists, geologists and meteorologists have been saying for decades: the Earth’s climate is shifting, most notably median temperatures of air and water, and human activity is the likely culprit in the rising temperatures and the increasingly chaotic weather. The report also downplays the chief alternate theory: that the Earth’s rising temperatures are part of long term cyclical weather and naturally occurring climate changes.

“Many lines of evidence,” the report says, “demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible for the observed climate changes over the last 15 decades. There are no apparent alternative explanations.”

The report also stresses the unlikelihood of cyclical change being the cause of the current uptick in temperatures.

“Natural cycles within the Earth’s climate system can only redistribute heat,” the summary says, “they cannot be responsible for the observed increase in the overall heat content of the climate system.”

The authors of the report—which was written and edited by scores of government scientists—added that even adjusting for the so-called “unknown factors,” there is no other viable explanation for rising temperatures, receding ice, shrinking polar regions, and melting ice caps. Human activity since the start of the Industrial Revolution, especially the burning of fossil fuels and the release of carbons into the atmosphere, has been the primary catalyst for climate change.

The study finds that the majority of the rise in temperature has taken place between 1951 and 2010, a half century or more during which the Earth saw rapid industrial development, especially in those countries whose economies boomed after the end of World War II. The report also acknowledges that aberrant cold periods—notably some extremely harsh winters during the period from 2009 to the present—are the possibly result of unstable weather patterns and the disruption of ocean currents and the jet stream. Those severe winters, the report stresses, are not evidence of a cooling trend.

The New York Times prepared a lengthy article to accompany the portions of the report, and in that article at least one of the scientists involved in the study said he fears the report will be either heavily redacted or possibly even suppressed, noting that President Trump has been openly skeptical not merely of the human element in climate change, but dismissive of the larger concept of global warming altogether. The Times article ran under a headline which reads “Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report.”

Online, the NYT article includes a link to open up the draft of the report.

The report—which comes by way of a Congressional mandate established more than 14 years ago requesting an updated study every three to four years—follows-up on its predecessor from 2014. That report was authored by more than 300 climate experts, geologists and oceanographers from 13 federal agencies. The current draft is scheduled for review and final discussion for a release in early 2018.

Among the key points in the report: current global temperatures are higher now than they have been in roughly 1,500 years, with the current uptick most notable with an rapid increase in the 1950s and 60s, followed by an even more brisk rise in the early 1980s.

The report suggests that a decade or more of unpredictable and sometimes deadly weather will be in store for much of the Earth as conditions worsen and as traditional climate patterns collapse.

But the report also stresses that it is not too late for humankind to take on corrective action, especially in the large arena of alternative fuel sources. Several countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, have already introduced legislation to do away with fossil fuels used in vehicular transportation by dates certain. In the United States, the popularity of electric cars and battery powered vehicles has increased, though not as fast as optimists had hoped.

Though more than 190 countries agreed at the 2015 Paris Accords to cut greenhouse gases and to reduce the use of fossil fuels (the U.S., along with China, officially joined in 2016), President Trump recently pulled the U.S. out of those agreements, citing the problems the accords would impose on the U.S. economy.

But even if humans bring an immediate halt to all greenhouse gas emissions, it may still require many decades for the process of warming to stop. Much would depend on the ability of the polar ice caps to rejuvenate and rebuild, and much would depend on a long term stabilization of weather patterns.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Deadly Storms Strike Across South; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; February 25, 2016.

Welcome to the Groundhog Day Blizzard; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; February 1, 2016.