No Big, Trump Just Hid Major EPA Climate Report For Years. Bet It's Great News, Huh?
While Donald Trump was calling for cars to get crappier gas mileage (for "safety"), trying to reanimate an already dying coal industry by slashing environmental protections, and generally doing what he could to deny the reality of the climate emergency, it turns out his administration was also withholding from public release a major Environmental Protection Agency report on the very real, already-occurring effects of global warming. The EPA, which under the Biden administration has had its central word brought back, finally released an updated version of the report yesterday, with data covering changes in 54 "climate change indicators" — the first time the agency has been allowed to publish updates to the indicators since 2016.
It's not a pretty picture, as the Washington Post sums up:
The destruction of year-round permafrost in Alaska, loss of winter ice on the Great Lakes and spike in summer heat waves in U.S. cities all signal that climate change is intensifying, the EPA said in its report. [...]
In 2020, for example, ocean heat reached its highest level in recorded history, and it fuels marine heat waves and coral bleaching. The extent of Arctic sea ice also was the second smallest on record dating to 1979. Wildfire and pollen seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.
There's sobering information in every damn category, like these charts on heat waves in the US, based on 2021 figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
Heat waves are occurring more frequently, lasting longer, and the temperature extremes have been steadily rising since the 1960s. Catchy though that Martha and the Vandellas song may be, this is some seriously bad news. And as it gets hotter, we're running our air conditioners more, which consumes more power. Summer energy consumption has nearly doubled since the '60s, and when that electricity comes from coal and gas-powered generators, that adds even more carbon to the atmosphere.
No, leaving the windows open to let the AC out would not help the planet, dear. Read the paragraph above.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Wednesday he hopes Americans will take notice, because we're all being affected:
"We want to reach people in every corner of this country because there is no small town, big city or rural community that's unaffected by the climate crisis," Regan told reporters Wednesday. "Americans are seeing and feeling the impacts up close with increasing regularity."
EPA staffers said the data detail how the nation has entered unprecedented territory, in which climate effects are more visible, changing faster and becoming more extreme. Collectively, the indicators present "multiple lines of evidence that climate change is occurring now and here in the U.S., affecting public health and the environment," the agency said.
In Alaska, every site that's been measured shows warming of permafrost since 1978. The greatest temperature increases have occurred in the far north, where thawing of permafrost isn't just causing soil erosion and making roads vanish in muck, it's also releasing methane into the atmosphere. That's an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and also what you call a feedback loop: More warming thaws more permafrost, releasing methane that causes greater warming. (You may as well add in the loss of sea ice, which would normally reflect sunlight back into space; the open ocean then absorbs more heat and hoo boy, another feedback loop.)
The EPA reporting drew on data from a wide range of academic studies, government agencies, and nonprofits, and now that it's all in one place, and being updated regularly again, it should once more be a useful clearinghouse for climate information. That's a huge contrast to the Trump administration approach; not only did Trump himself regularly cast doubt on climate science, claiming he had a really good "instinct" for science, his flunkies at every level sought to downplay and muddy any information that might get in the way of fossil fuel industry profits.
Even when reliable science couldn't be blocked, Trump did what he could to try to blunt its effectiveness. In 2017, Trump couldn't make the quadrennial National Climate Assessment vanish, or force its authors to water down its conclusions, because the report is mandated by law. But he did attempt to reduce its impact by having it released the day after Thanksgiving, one of the slowest news days of any year. That bit of skulduggery didn't work so well, since the attempt to hide the report became a big news story in itself.
Now that it's been freed from its cage, go take a look at the EPA information, which unlike a lot of climate reports doesn't focus so much on predicting the bad stuff that's coming, but rather reports on how bad things are right now. And while it can be frightening, keep in mind that we're still in a position to keep the very worst outcomes of continued warming from happening, and we have a president who's committed to that. We lost four years at a crucial point in the climate fight. The future depends on our not allowing that to happen again.
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