December 15, 2017
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Call it climate change, weather extremes, whatever, but don’t deny it’s happening

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Some lobstermen worry that warming ocean temperatures threaten their catch.

Telling government officials not to use the term “climate change” isn’t going to slow temperature increases or stop sea levels from rising. Neither will downplaying or delaying reports on the warming planet. Rather than telling government agencies what terms they can and cannot use, the Trump administration should take the responsible action of actually taking steps to mitigate climate changes, or extreme weather, or whatever they want to call it.

Staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service have been told to avoid the term “climate change.” Instead, they should use the phrase “weather extremes,” The Guardian reported this week after obtaining emails between NRCS staff. They were also advised not to use the phrases “reduce greenhouse gases” or “carbon sequestration.”

Last week, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, criticized a report from 13 agencies that warned that global temperatures will continue to rise if there are not significant reductions in the burning of fossil fuels.

The EPA is one of 13 government agencies that drafted the report, which is part of the National Climate Assessment, a report that must be updated every four years, according to a 1990 congressional mandate. The fourth update of the assessment is currently being reviewed by the administration. It has already been peer reviewed by a panel of 14 scientists at the National Academy of Sciences, who sent 132 pages of comments.

Still, Pruitt suggested last week that the report has not been adequately reviewed and said: “Science should not be politicized. Science is not something that should be just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, D.C.”

In fact, science should dictate policy so it is based on sound evidence.

This comes just a few weeks after the Department of Interior’s top climate policy official says he was demoted to an accounting position after speaking out about the danger climate change poses to Native communities in Alaska.

“Let’s be honest: The Trump administration didn’t think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit,” Joel Clement, who graduated from Falmouth High School, wrote in a July 20 OpEd, originally published in the Washington Post.

Clement worked at the department for nearly seven years, working with Alaska Native villages to help them prepare for and adapt to changes in the climate. Villages on the edge of the Arctic Ocean are in danger of being washed away as the permafrost they are built on melts and the melting ice raises the ocean level.

In June, President Donald Trump announced that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, removing the country from the international debate over one of the most pressing issues currently facing the world, one that will result in mass migrations due to drought and hunger that will worsen global conflicts, as the Pentagon has repeatedly warned.

Globally, the trend is clear: Last year was the warmest year on record, according to NASA. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998.

Surface water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are rising 99 percent faster than sea surface temperatures on the rest of the planet, prompting concerns about the future of Maine’s most lucrative fishery.

“As someone who depends on a clean environment to make a living, I’m worried we are trading the long-term health of our planet for short-term economic gains,” David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, wrote in a March 29 BDN column.

We can call this climate change or extreme weather, but it is clear that this trend will continue to impact the Earth and its inhabitants. The reasonable thing to do is to take steps — such as reducing the burning of fossil fuels — to slow the temperature rise.

So, rather than demoting scientists and telling other bureaucrats what words to use, the Trump administration and Congress would be wise to take climate change seriously.

 


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