The most accurate climate change models predict the most alarming consequences, study finds

The Washington Post reports: The climate change simulations that best capture current planetary conditions are also the ones that predict the most dire levels of human-driven warming, according to a statistical study released in the journal Nature Wednesday.

The study, by Patrick Brown and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif., examined the high-powered climate change simulations, or “models,” that researchers use to project the future of the planet based on the physical equations that govern the behavior of the atmosphere and oceans.

The researchers then looked at what the models that best captured current conditions high in the atmosphere predicted was coming. Those models generally predicted a higher level of warming than models that did not capture these conditions as well. [Continue reading…]

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Trump disbands group meant to prepare cities for climate shocks

Bloomberg reports: The Trump administration has terminated a cross-agency group created to help local officials protect their residents against extreme weather and natural disasters.

The Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems was created by the Obama administration in 2015 within the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. Its chairman, Jesse Keenan, told members at a meeting Monday that its charter was being dissolved that the meeting would be its last.

“It was one of the last federal bodies that openly talked about climate change in public,” Keenan said in an email to Bloomberg News. “I can say that we tried our best and we never self-censored!”

The group is the latest in a series of federal climate-related bodies to be altered or terminated since Trump took office. In June, the administration told scientists who sat on the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors that their terms weren’t being renewed. In August, Trump ended the advisory committee attached to the National Climate Assessment, the quadrennial review of climate science. Trump has called climate change a “hoax” designed to make the U.S. less competitive with China. [Continue reading…]

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What the Pliocene epoch can teach us about future warming on Earth

Science News reports: Imagine a world where the polar ice sheets are melting, sea level is rising and the atmosphere is stuffed with about 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Sound familiar? It should. We’re living it. But the description also matches Earth a little over 3 million years ago, in the middle of the geologic epoch known as the Pliocene.

To understand how our planet might respond as global temperatures rise, scientists are looking to warm periods of the past. These include the steamy worlds of the Cretaceous Period, such as around 90 million years ago, and the boundary of the Paleocene and Eocene epochs, about 56 million years ago.

But to many researchers, the best reference for today’s warming is the more recent Pliocene, which lasted from 5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago. The mid-Pliocene was the last time atmospheric CO2 levels were similar to today’s, trapping heat and raising global temperatures to above the levels Earth is experiencing now.

New research is illuminating how the planet responded to Pliocene warmth. One set of scientists has fanned out across the Arctic, gathering geologic clues to how temperatures there may have been as much as 19 degrees Celsius higher than today. The warmth allowed trees to spread far to the north, creating Arctic forests where three-toed horses, giant camels and other animals roamed. When lightning struck, wildfires roared across the landscape, spewing soot into the air and altering the region’s climate.

Other researchers are pushing the frontiers of climate modeling, simulating how the oceans, atmosphere and land responded as Pliocene temperatures soared. One new study shows how the warmth may have triggered huge changes in ocean circulation, setting up an enormous overturning current in the Pacific Ocean, similar to the “conveyor belt” in today’s Atlantic that drives weather and climate. A second new paper suggests that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets might have responded differently to Pliocene heat, melting at different times.

All this research into the last great warm period is helping scientists think more deeply about how the future might play out. It may not be a road map to the next 100 years, but the Pliocene is a rough guide to the high sea levels, vanishing ice and altered weather patterns that might arrive hundreds to thousands of years from now.

“It’s a case study for understanding how warm climates function,” says Heather Ford, a paleoceanographer at the University of Cambridge. “It’s our closest analog for future climate change.” [Continue reading…]

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Growing number of global insurance firms divesting from fossil fuels

The Guardian reports: A growing number of insurance companies increasingly affected by the consequences of climate change are selling holdings in coal companies and refusing to underwrite their operations.

About £15bn has been divested in the past two years, according to a new report that rates the world’s leading insurers’ efforts to distance themselves from the fossil fuel industry that is most responsible for carbon emissions.

Fifteen companies – almost all based in Europe – have fully or partially cut financial ties, says the study by the Unfriend Coal campaign, which represents a coalition of a dozen environmental groups including Greenpeace, 350.org and the Sierra Club.

Zurich, the world’s seventh biggest insurer, is the latest to shift away from coal, announcing this week that it is pulling out of coal to contribute to broader efforts to achieve the Paris accord goal of keeping global warming below 2C.

Allianz, Aviva and Axa have previously made similar moves. Lloyd’s and Swiss Re are expected to follow in the coming months.

The campaign has a long way to go. The early movers represent only 13% of all global insurance assets. None of the major US insurers such as Berkshire Hathaway, AIG and Liberty Mutual have taken action, according to the study.

Despite this, the authors say the shift of assets and coverage since 2015 is gaining momentum.

“Coal needs to become uninsurable,” said Peter Bosshard, the coordinator of Unfriend Coal. “If insurers cease to cover the numerous natural, technical, commercial and political risks of coal projects, then new coalmines and power plants cannot be built and existing operations will have to be shut down.” [Continue reading…]

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Frustrated foreign leaders bypass Washington in search of blue-state allies

The Washington Post reports: California Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent trip to the capital of the European Union had all the trappings of a visit by a head of state — he even got an upgraded title.

“Mr. President, welcome in Brussels,” Brown (D) was told this month as he exited his Mercedes van in front of the European Parliament in the spot usually reserved for national leaders. Then he was whisked off to a day of hearings, testimony and high-level meetings in the heart of European power.

Nearly a year into the Trump presidency, countries around the world are scrambling to adapt as the White House has struggled to fill key government positions, scaled back the State Department and upended old alliances. Now some nations are finding that even if they are frustrated by President Trump’s Washington, they can still prosper from robust relations with the California Republic and a constellation of like-minded U.S. cities, some of which are bigger than European countries. [Continue reading…]

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The switch to outdoor LED lighting has backfired

Gizmodo reports: To reduce energy consumption, many jurisdictions around the world are transitioning to outdoor LED lighting. But as new research shows, this solid-state solution hasn’t yielded the expected energy savings, and potentially worse, it’s resulted in more light pollution than ever before.

Using satellite-based sensors, an international team of scientists sought to understand if our planet’s surface is getting brighter or darker at night, and to determine if LEDs are saving energy at the global scale. With the introduction of solid-state lighting—such as LEDs, OLEDs, and PLEDs—it was thought (and hoped) that the transition to it from conventional lighting—like electrical filaments, gas, and plasma—would result in big energy savings. According to the latest research, however, the use of LEDs has resulted in a “rebound” effect whereby many jurisdictions have opted to use even more light owing to the associated energy savings.

Indeed, as the new results show, the amount of outdoor lighting around the world has increased during the past several years. “As a result, the world has experienced widespread ‘loss of the night,’ with half of Europe and a quarter of North America experiencing substantially modified light-dark cycles,” write the researchers in the new study, which was published today in Scientific Advances. [Continue reading…]

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Why global warming lawsuits are gaining traction in courtrooms around the world

Pacific Standard reports: Negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany, last week made some incremental progress toward fulfilling the Paris Agreement’s aim to limit global warming. But the intensifying urgency of the climate crisis requires bigger and bolder steps, including more lawsuits, according to a group of legal experts who met on November 15th in the basement of a converted church in downtown Bonn.

“We have a strong message for climate polluters: We’ll see you in court,” said Fijian activist Makereta Waqavonovono, a legal practitioner with the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network who made it clear that Fiji expects help from wealthier countries to pay for relocating about 800 coastal villages that will be flooded by rising sea levels in the next few decades.

At the panel, organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, climate activists and attorneys said that, as international climate policy keeps failing, litigation is becoming an increasingly important part of the strategy to force reductions of dangerous heat-trapping greenhouse gases—and to hold climate polluters financially accountable for the damage they’ve caused.

At the talks in Bonn, the question of compensation—Loss and Damage, in negotiator jargon—was once again shunted aside for the most part, said Naomi Ages, a climate liability expert with Greenpeace USA.

“Sometime soon there has to be a day of reckoning. Who’s going to pay for the climate damage already caused?” she said. “All governments are obligated to consider the human rights aspects of climate change, and the International Criminal Court has said that climate change is a possible reason for charges on crimes against humanity,” she added. [Continue reading…]

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The climate crisis? It’s capitalism, stupid

Benjamin Y. Fong writes: Even casual readers of the news know that the earth is probably going to look very different in 2100, and not in a good way.

A recent Times opinion piece included this quotation from the paleoclimatologist Lee Kump: “The rate at which we’re injecting CO2 into the atmosphere today, according to our best estimates, is 10 times faster than it was during the End-Permian.”

The End-Permian is a pre-dinosaurs era of mass extinction that killed 90 percent of the life in the ocean and 75 percent of it on land. It is also called the Great Dying. Although those who write about environmental change like to add notes of false personalization around this point — “My children will be x years old when catastrophe y happens” — there is really no good way of acclimating the mind to facts of this magnitude.

However, the cause of the disaster that, by all indications, we are already living through should be clearer. It is not the result of the failure of individuals to adopt the moralizing strictures of “green” consciousness, and it is a sign of just how far we have to go that some still believe reusable shopping bags and composting (perfectly fine in their own right) are ways out of this mess.

It is also not the deceit of specific immoral companies that is to blame: We like to pick out Volkswagen’s diesel scandal, but it is only one of many carmakers that “deliberately exploit lax emissions tests.” Nor does the onus fall on the foundering of Social Democratic reforms and international cooperation: Even before the United States backed out of the Paris Accord, we were well on our way to a 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit temperature rise by 2100, “a temperature that at times in the past has meant no ice at either pole.”

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault. [Continue reading…]

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Trump may be turning his back on the world, but America isn’t

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Last week in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, the most unwelcome attendees at a U.N. summit on climate policy may have been the members of the delegation representing the Trump administration. President Trump, after all, made a great show of his opposition to the landmark Paris climate accord — one of the linchpins of his predecessor’s political legacy — by announcing his country’s withdrawal from the pact in June.

Trump’s energy adviser, George D. Banks, promoted coal and other fossil fuels at a panel event swarmed by protesters. As he attempted to explain his boss’s doubts about global warming, he trotted out lines of reasoning that one analyst deemed “zombie arguments from the 1990s and 2000s.”

Meanwhile, an unofficial and dramatically different American delegation was making its presence felt. A number of prominent Democratic senators made the trip to affirm their commitment to the ongoing negotiations. Other big names, including leading business executives and California Gov. Jerry Brown, showed up and emphasized their desire to curb carbon pollution, no matter what the president says. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a committed advocate for climate action, pitched in for a swanky pavilion that declared “We are still in!”

“We are here because it’s our responsibility to be part of the global community,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) last week. “We’re here because it’s in our national security interests to deal with climate change.” Bloomberg directly mocked the administration’s climate stance: “Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit,” he joked. [Continue reading…]

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In Bonn, Trump’s answer to global warming? Drill, baby, drill!

Elizabeth Kolbert writes: Every year around this time, negotiators from across the globe meet in one city or another—Montreal, Marrakech, Copenhagen, Paris—to resolve that the world really ought come up with a plan to do something about climate change. This year’s Conference of the Parties, the twenty-third such gathering, is taking place in Bonn, and in addition to the usual impediments to progress—mistrust, inequality, bad faith—there’s now the Trump Administration to contend with. On Monday, the U.S. delegation used its sole official appearance at COP23 to tout fossil fuels.

“Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit,” the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was in Bonn for the cop, observed. Protesters at the event sang songs and then walked out, leaving the hall half empty.

Also on Monday, a group of scientists reported that global carbon emissions, which had been flat for the past few years, were once again on the rise. The group predicted that industrial CO2 emissions in 2017 would total thirty-seven billion tons, which is about two per cent more than in 2016, and that this figure would likely climb again in 2018. “World backsliding on curbing carbon emissions,” summed up a headline in the Bangor Daily News.

Then, on Tuesday, the International Energy Agency, which is based in Paris, released its annual “World Energy Outlook.” One of the agency’s key findings is that global energy demand will continue to rise through 2040. Another is that, owing to technological advances like fracking, the United States is poised to become a major exporter of fossil fuels. “By the mid-2020s, the United States [will] become the world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter and a few years later a net exporter of oil,” the agency predicts. It’s hard to say which of these announcements was the most depressing, but, on some level, it doesn’t really matter, since they’re all connected. [Continue reading…]

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COP 23: Three ways cities are leading the fight against climate change

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By Barbara Norman, University of Warwick

The global population is predicted to rise to 10 billion by 2050, and the majority of those people will live in cities. Given that cities already account for 75% of the world’s energy use and 76% of carbon dioxide emissions, there’s a growing focus on how urban planning and design can reduce emissions and help humanity to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Representatives of the world’s global powers have gathered in Bonn to attend the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change – more pithily known as COP 23.

Working together to affect large-scale change has been the key message of the conference. There has been a groundswell of urban innovation on show, largely driven by the mayors and governors of cities and regions, as well as industry leaders and universities interested in promoting opportunities for greener growth.

These bodies have formed alliances and networks to develop ideas and strategies around smart mobility, renewable energy, living infrastructure and sustainable urban design. This has been the good news story of COP 23. The conference has given nation states a unique opportunity to work more closely with cities, to plan for climate change.

So, in my role as an urban and regional planner (in practice and academia) I spent some time in Bonn finding out about the exciting ways that cities are leading the fight against climate change.

[Read more…]

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Democrats are shockingly unprepared to fight climate change

The Atlantic reports: There’s a wrinkle in how the United States talks about climate change in 2017, a tension fundamental to the issue’s politics but widely ignored.

On one hand, Democrats are the party of climate change. Since the 1990s, as public belief in global warming has become strongly polarized, the Democratic Party has emerged as the advocate of more aggressive climate action. The most recent Democratic president made climate policy a centerpiece of his second term, and the party’s national politicians now lament and oppose the undoing of his work. Concern for the climate isn’t just an elite issue, either: Rank-and-file Democrats are more likely to worry about global warming than the median voter.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party does not have a plan to address climate change. This is true at almost every level of the policy-making process: It does not have a consensus bill on the issue waiting in the wings; it does not have a shared vision for what that bill could look like; and it does not have a guiding slogan—like “Medicare for All”—to express how it wants to stop global warming.

Many people in the party know they want to do something about climate change, but there’s no agreement about what that something may be.

This is not for lack of trying. Democrats struggle to formulate a post-Obama climate policy because substantive political obstacles stand in their way. They have not yet identified a mechanism that will make a dent in Earth’s costly, irreversible warming while uniting the many factions of their coalition. These problems could keep the party scrambling to face the climate crisis for years to come. [Continue reading…]

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Jerry Brown, President of the Independent Republic of California

Politico reports: On his way to the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, this week, Jerry Brown stopped over at the Vatican, where a doleful group of climate scientists, politicians and public health officials had convened to discuss calamities that might befall a warming world. The prospects were so dire—floods and fires, but also forced migration, famine and war—that some of the participants acknowledged difficulty staving off despair.

California’s doomsayer governor did not express much optimism either. Seated between an economist and an Argentine bishop at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Brown leaned into his microphone and said, “It is despairing. Ending the world, ending all mammalian life. This is bad stuff.”

“There’s nothing that I see out there that gives me any ground for optimism,” he went on. Still, he promised action: “I’m extremely excited about doing something about it.”

Even though President Donald Trump has abandoned the Paris climate agreement and called climate change a “hoax,” and even though he is proceeding to scrap the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and promoting the production of coal, Brown insisted to his audience at the Vatican that these policies do not reflect the true sensibilities of the United States.

“This is not just a top-down structure that we have in the United States,” the governor said. The small crowd burst into applause when he added, “Over time, given the commitments that we’re seeing in this room today, and what we’re seeing around the world, the Trump factor is very small, very small indeed.”

In the raw balance of power between a governor and a president, Brown has almost no standing abroad. What he does have is a platform, and a proposition: Crusading across Europe in his Fitbit and his dark, boxy suit, Brown advances California and its policies almost as an alternative to the United States—and his waning governorship, after a lifetime in politics, as a quixotic rejection of the provincial limits of the American governor. In the growing chasm between Trump’s Washington and California—principally on climate change, but also taxes, health care, gun control and immigration—Brown is functioning as the head of something closer to a country than a state. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Bloomberg’s ‘war on coal’ goes global with $50m fund

The Guardian reports: The battle to end coal-burning, backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, is expanding out of the US and around the world in its bid to reduce the global warming threat posed by the most polluting fossil fuel.

Bloomberg, a UN special envoy on climate change and former mayor of New York city, has funded a $164m campaign in the US since 2010, during which time more than half the nation’s coal-fired power plants have been closed.

On Thursday, he announced a $50m (£38m) plan to expand the programme into Europe and then the rest of the world. The money will support grassroots campaigns, research on the health impacts of coal and legal action against coal plants that are breaking pollution rules.

Bloomberg is attending the global climate change summit in Bonn, Germany, where he is leading a group of states, cities and businesses pledging action in the US despite President Donald Trump’s opposition.

Coal burning still accounts for about 20% of all of the European Union’s carbon emissions, with Germany and Poland by far the biggest polluters. Bloomberg’s initiative aims to speed up the phase-out of coal by capitalising on the fast falling costs of renewable energy alternatives and rising concerns about air pollution. [Continue reading…]

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Somalia: The role of climate change in recurring violence

Giovanna Kuele and Ana Cristina Miola write: The deadliest blast in Somalia’s history, which killed more than 350 people, and the double car bombing in Mogadishu last October represented frustrating backslides in the country’s efforts to build stability. For almost 30 years, Somalia has been tackling a combination of civil war, famine, desertification, piracy, political fragmentation, and terrorism — even as the population struggles to rebuild and move forward. Although the conflict has many underlying causes, one factor that remains poorly understood is climate change. In a country where, alongside war, six million people currently face starvation, understanding the role of climate change and its impact on patterns of drought — and developing innovative responses — is more pressing than ever.

Since the country’s state and social resilience to climate consequences is limited, the ability of around 70% of Somalis to meet their basic needs depends heavily on a regular climate pattern. However, over the past decade climate change-related desertification has expanded in Somalia, greatly increasing the vulnerability of the local population. Climate change feeds armed conflict in Somalia by exacerbating tensions between clans; boosting the ranks and role of terrorist groups, including al-Shabaab; and increasing migratory flows.

First, climate change sharpens disputes over already-scarce resources between warlords. While Al-Shabaab has conquered large pieces of the country’s territory, clan elders still wield considerable power, dominating the political system. In this sense, the severe droughts cause disruptions to water access, high rates of malnutrition, disease outbreaks, and food insecurity, leading to tension and even open disputes between the clans. In a country facing this set of challenges, resources like food and water are not only a basic need but also a source of power. [Continue reading…]

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Rogue state: U.S. now the only country in the world that rejects the Paris climate accord

The Atlantic reports: It’s official. When it comes to climate change, there’s now literally everyone else—and then there’s the United States.

Syria, the last remaining holdout from the Paris Agreement on climate change, announced at a United Nations meeting in Germany on Tuesday that it will sign the agreement. The Syrian Arab News Agency, a state-sponsored news outlet, also reported that the country’s legislature voted to ascend to the agreement last month.

Its declaration means that the United States is the only country in the world that has rejected the treaty and promised to withdraw from it.

If the news isn’t exactly pleasant for the Trump administration, which announced the intent to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement in June, it’s also something of a poor advertisement for the treaty itself. That Syria—war-torn, war-crime-committing Syria—has acceded to the Paris accord does not make an obvious case for the United States doing the same.

At the same time, Syria is committing to Paris now because every other country has already signed on. In Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, the Paris Agreement is considered a relatively uncontroversial international achievement.

“With Syria on board, now the entire world is resolutely committed to advancing climate action—all save one country,” said Paula Caballero, a climate-policy specialist at the World Resources Institute. “This should make the Trump administration pause and reflect on their ill-advised announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.”

“Syria’s participation puts an exclamation point on the fact that the U.S. actions are contrary to the political actions, and the sincerely held beliefs, of every other country on the face of the Earth,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University and a longtime observer of UN climate negotiations. [Continue reading…]

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Threat to stability of East Antarctica’s largest glacier raises risk of global sea level rising by at least 3.5 meters

ScienceNews reports: The wind is helping to awaken one of Antarctica’s sleeping giants. Warm ocean waters, driven inland by winds, are undercutting an ice shelf that holds back a vast glacier from sliding into the ocean, researchers report November 1 in Science Advances.

Totten Glacier is East Antarctica’s largest glacier, with a drainage basin encompassing about 550,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of France. Its floating front edge, the Totten ice shelf, sticks out like a tongue over the water and acts as a buttress for the giant glacier, slowing its movement toward the ocean. If the entire land-based glacier destabilizes and slips into the sea, it could raise global sea level by at least 3.5 meters.

Satellite and on-the-ground studies have previously shown that Totten Glacier and its buttressing ice shelf are thinning. Last year, scientists determined that the ice shelf is being melted from below by warm water. The ice shelf floats within a pool of its own cold meltwater that sits atop a deeper, saltier and warmer layer; the two layers generally don’t mix, like oil and water. The warmer layer periodically rises up, becoming shallow enough to access grooves in the seafloor that extend beneath the ice shelf. But what controls the inflow of that warm water was unknown. [Continue reading…]

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Climate change driven almost entirely by human action, dire report released by Trump administration finds

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration released a dire scientific report Friday detailing the growing threats of climate change. The report stands in stark contrast to the administration’s efforts to downplay humans’ role in global warming, withdraw from an international climate accord and reverse Obama-era policies aimed at curbing U.S. greenhouse-gas output.

The White House did not seek to prevent the release of the government’s National Climate Assessment, which is mandated by law, despite the fact that its findings sharply contradict the administration’s policies. The report affirms that climate change is driven almost entirely by human action, warns of potential sea-level rise as high as eight feet by the year 2100, and enumerates climate-related damage across the United States that is already occurring as a result of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming since 1900.

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the document reports. “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

The report’s release underscores the extent to which the machinery of the federal scientific establishment, operating in multiple agencies across the government, continues to grind on even as top administration officials have minimized or disparaged its findings. Federal scientists have continued to author papers and issue reports on climate change, for example, even as political appointees have altered the wording of news releases or blocked civil servants from speaking about their conclusions in public forums. The climate assessment process is dictated by a 1990 law that Democratic and Republican administrations have followed.

The White House on Friday sought to downplay the significance of the study and its findings. [Continue reading…]

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