The Trump administration appears to have settled on a strategy for dealing with the dire conclusions in the latest federal climate assessment: just downplay and dismiss the science. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toed the line on Tuesday.
At a Tuesday afternoon briefing, Sanders called the findings “radical” and “based on the most extreme model scenario, which contradicts long-established trends.”
“It’s not based on facts. ... It’s not data-driven,” she claimed about the report. “We’d like to see something that is more data-driven. It’s based on modeling, which is extremely hard to do when you’re talking about the climate.”
The 1,600-page report, which was issued by 13 federal agencies and authored by more than 300 researchers, is in truth laden with facts and data and sources. There are entire appendices detailing the report’s development process and the data available to its authors. And modeling, which is based on past and current climate data, is how scientists make predictions about the future.
The climate report was released on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving ― a move that many saw as the administration’s attempt to bury the findings. It concludes that the United States has already warmed on average 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and without drastic emissions reductions, it will warm at least 3 more degrees ― and perhaps as much as 9 degrees or more ― by 2100.
Earlier on Tuesday, Zinke also claimed that these findings were based on worst-case scenarios. He told KCRA News in Sacramento, California, that the administration is “looking at the report and there’s some concern within the [U.S. Geological Survey],” which he described as “our nation’s top scientific body.”
“It appears ― and again, we’re looking at it closely, I have a brief when I get back ― it appears they took the worst scenarios and they built predictions upon that,” he said of the report’s authors. “It should be more probability. But we’re looking at it.”
It’s unclear who, if anyone, at USGS has expressed concern about the report or its findings. The Interior Department and the USGS did not respond to requests for comment.
Since the report’s release, the White House has worked to minimize the sobering consensus among federal scientists that climate change is driven by human activity, that it’s already impacting communities across the country and that it will bring on catastrophic effects unless immediate action is taken to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the weekend, a White House spokeswoman said the report is “largely based on the most extreme scenario, which contradicts long-established trends by assuming that, despite strong economic growth that would increase greenhouse gas emissions, there would be limited technology and innovation, and a rapidly expanding population.” The next assessment, which is due out in 2022, will “provide for a more transparent and data-driven process,” she said.
Katharine Hayhoe, a co-author of the current assessment and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, said in a Friday tweet that the White House’s claim is “demonstrably false.”
“I wrote the climate scenarios chapter myself so I can confirm it considers ALL scenarios, from those where we go carbon negative before end of century to those where carbon emissions continue to rise,” she wrote.
Hayhoe tweeted again on Tuesday to “set the record straight” about a number of statements made since the report’s release. Those included the White House’s comments and a claim by Rick Santorum, the failed Republican presidential candidate, that the authors were “driven by money.”
Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Monday, President Donald Trump simply rejected the science. “I don’t believe it,” he said of his administration’s report, adding that “we’re the cleanest we’ve ever been.”
This article has been updated with comments from Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misquoted a remark by Sanders, thereby incorrectly suggesting that she thought the report needed more climate modeling. In fact, she was casting doubt on all climate modeling.