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  August 9, 2017

Scientists Leak Government Climate Report, Avoiding Trump's Censorship

A leaked US government report directly undermines President Trump's climate change denial just as the Department of Agriculture has started to censor the language of climate science
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Katharine Hayhoe, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas Tech University. She is also the founder and CEO of ATMOS Research, where we bridge the gap between scientists and stakeholders to provide relevant, state-of-the-art information on how climate change will affect our lives to a broad range of non-profit, industry and government clients.


AARON MATE: It's The Real News, I'm Aaron Mate. A new US Governmeng report on climate change directly undermines the Trump administration's climate denial. Scientists from 13 Federal agencies say global warming has increased temperatures in the US and around the world. The report has not been published and there are fears the White House will censor it, and there's a new reason to be worried about climate censorship. The Guardian reports this week that the Department of Agriculture has banned several phrases including 'climate change' and 'climate change adaptation.' Instead, the agency has told employees to use terms like, 'weather extremes' and 'resilience to weather extremes.'

Katharine Hayhoe is director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. Katharine welcome.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Thank you for having me.

AARON MATE: Thanks for joining us. Let's talk first about this leaked report, what it is, and what it says.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Well first of all, the New York Times article that kicked all this off last night and the PDF they posted was not elite, it was the public review draft that has been available since December, and can still be downloaded from the National Academy of Science's website. Apparently, all you have to do to hide something is make sure that it's reported by the National Academy of Sciences. But since then, an updated draft, which is the fifth and final draft, currently under review by the administration, has been posted, so that definitely was a leak, but people if they're curious, can go to the third draft and read all they want.

AARON MATE: So what's new is that there's been a leak of something that was previously already available?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Yes, that's right, and people are asking, "What's the difference?" What was the difference between the third and the fifth draft? The main difference was the fact that the National Academy of Sciences convened an entire committee of top experts from across the country with the sole purpose of reviewing this report. This report is one of the most thoroughly reviewed climate science documents in the history of the United States. The review that we received from the National Academy of Sciences was about the same length or possibly even longer than the report itself. There's a substantial improvement in the content and the quality of the science presented, but there is no significant change in the main messages, because they haven't changed in decades. Climate is changing, we know it's real, humans are responsible and the risks are serious.

It's been 52 years since scientists were sure enough of those conclusions to formerly warn a US President, and that Lyndon B. Johnson.

AARON MATE: Yes, so my only question there is then, do we even need to keep coming out with these reports when the science is so unanimous across the board, everyone agrees on it?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: That is a fantastic question and I myself have lobbied for what they call, continued assessment, or you have a document that gets updated, but you don't have to start writing it again from scratch. I think this climate science report would be an ideal candidate for that type of ongoing assessment where you just update it as new information becomes available. This document though, is part one of the National Climate Assessment, and that is a very important report on awesome website, a great resource for people who wonder, "Why does this matter to me? Isn't it just about the polar bears or people living on low-lying islands in the South Pacific? What's happening in Miami? What's happening in Maine? What's happening in California? What's happening in North Dakota?"

The National Assessment brings this issue home and tells us what changes we've already seen in the places where we live, and what are the outcomes of the choices that we make today? How we personally will be affected by a changing climate in the places where we live.

AARON MATE: If you could identify one area where the change is most striking, and one area where the threat of change is also dire. What would those areas be?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Climate change affects us primarily by exacerbating the risks that we already face naturally, and so Florida is one of the most vulnerable states, because it already faces so many risks. It's right in the eye of many of the strongest hurricanes that already occur naturally, it's on very low-lying ground, so any change in sea level means a disproportionate amount of land flooded. Florida is one of the key areas at risk, but so is Texas. If you look at the number of billion dollar, weather and climate disasters, disasters that cause that much damage, in financial terms, that have happened since 1980, the biggest number of those very expensive weather and climate disasters have happened in Texas. Why? Because we get it all, we get ice storms, we get droughts, we get floods, we get hurricanes, we get tornadoes, we get heat waves, we get cold, we get everything, and climate change is exacerbating the risk of many of the natural hazards that we face today.

AARON MATE: Let's talk a bit more about government censorship of climate change since Trump took office. I mentioned at the top, this report from The Guardian, that the Department of Agriculture has told staffers to not use the word 'climate change'. Your comments on that and how that fits into broader censorship that we've seen since Trump took office.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: As a communicator, I am all for using whatever words get the message across to people. So if we have to talk about global weirding, or we talk about exacerbating the risks we face, or if we talk about vulnerability or resilience, whatever words get the message across are great, it doesn't have to be global warming, it doesn't have to be climate change. But the flip side of that, is saying that you can't use words that people would understand, because you want to obscure the issue, and that unfortunately, is what we're seeing today.

The reality is, is that whatever you call it, it's real. Just because you call gravity something else and you tell people they can't talk about it, doesn't mean that if you step off a cliff you're not going down. Climate is changing, humans are responsible, the risks are very serious and we have a short window of time to act now to avoid the most serious and the most dangerous risks that we will otherwise face.

AARON MATE: Yeah, and on that point as we wrap, let me ask you, I've heard arguments say that even if we do cut greenhouse gases to a level that were proposed under the Paris Accord, which of course we know Trump has pulled out of, that even that would not suffice to avert the worst consequences that you talk about. What's your take on that?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Climate change is not fair. It disproportionately impacts the poor and the vulnerable of this world. There are people today, some in the United States, many in very poor countries, that are already feeling serious and even dangerous impacts. Some amount of the damage is unavoidable, but the reality is, is that the faster we cut our emissions, the faster we stabilize climate, the less risk we all have to face.

AARON MATE: Finally, if Trump does not release this report, what do you think that means and what do you think the reaction will be?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Well, this report is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is a legally mandated product of the US Global Change Research Program. There is a legal mandate to release these reports every so often, every few number of years. If the administration does not approve the release of this report and the subsequent National Climate Assessment, it would be open to legal action by anyone who had the resources to do so.

In reality though, the report is now out there, and lots of people are talking about it already. Far more than if we scientists had come to you and said, "Here's our report, please read it." In a way it's actually sparked I think, a different conversation today, than if we had been having this conversation in November, when the report was formally released.

AARON MATE: We'll leave it there. Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, Katharine, thank you.


AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.



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