If there is anything leaders should agree on, it’s the need for empirical evidence. It was unsettling, to say the least, for the nation’s top environmental official to question the science of climate change, signaling a future of polluting policies and aversion to research.
Scott Pruitt’s remarks last Thursday were among his strongest indication yet that the scientific consensus will have no place in Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” the new Environmental Protection Agency head said on CNBC’s morning show.
“But we don’t know that yet,” continued Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general let oil and gas lobbyists pen his letters to federal regulators complaining about environmental rules and just added his signature. “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”
His view is at odds with the EPA’s own findings, the experiences of low-lying communities and the work of scientists the world over.
“Human influence on the climate system is clear,” states the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the leading scientific body on the issue. “This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.”
Anyone interested in a Mainer’s understanding of climate change should read a recent piece by Sen. Angus King, published in the Maine Policy Review.
King, who traveled to Greenland to understand challenges in the Arctic, presents charts detailing 420,000 years of carbon dioxide concentrations, compared with changes in global temperatures and then sea levels. The lines track one another.
“CO2 goes up, temperature goes up, sea level goes up. Put them all together — and that is about all you need to know in terms of the science of climate change,” he wrote.
Why should people care? For Maine, a rising ocean could substantially alter the coastline. A warming ocean is already affecting species on the East Coast and in the Gulf of Maine.
King asked scientists on his trip about how much seas would rise, he wrote. “Here’s what they said: A foot of sea level rise in the next 10 to 15 years and 1 foot per decade thereafter for the rest of the century.”
The acceleration has started. Take the tourism hub of Tybee Island in Georgia, which has seen 10 inches of sea-level rise since 1935, with three of the top 10 highest tides ever recorded occurring in October 2015, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The only road on and off the island experienced 23 tidal floods that year, significantly more than in any other recorded year, cutting the island off from the mainland — and threatening people’s safety and the area’s economy.
“I’m a Republican, but I also realize, by any objective analysis, the sea level is rising,” Jason Buelterman, the island’s mayor, told The New York Times. His community was the first in Georgia to create a detailed climate plan.
Think, too, not only of places such as Bar Harbor, Rockland and Portland, where people live and work close to the water, but of Miami, New Orleans and Norfolk Virginia, which houses the largest concentration of U.S. Navy forces. The combined impact will be felt by millions.
This is not a time to sow doubt about climate change. It’s a time to figure out how to make substantial, long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while also preparing for a time of rising temperatures and sea levels. Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA could set America on a dangerous course backward.