NOAA erases ‘human activity’ from news release on soaring greenhouse gases

“It’s a complicated topic that can be difficult to communicate,” the Trump administration claims.

The lead image from NOAA’s 2016 news release on its Annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Index shows where GHGs come from.
The lead image from NOAA’s 2016 news release on its Annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Index shows where GHGs come from.

In a truly shocking news release on its Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has erased any reference to “human activity” or fossil fuels. The index monitors the warming influence of greenhouse gases like CO2.

Last year, NOAA’s news release for the index featured the picture of flaring gas from fossil fuel extraction (see top image). The release began by stating, “human activity has increased the direct warming effect of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by 50 percent above pre-industrial levels during the past 25 years, according to NOAA’s 10th annual Greenhouse Gas Index.”

This year, the news release begins, “NOAA’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which tracks the warming influence of long-lived greenhouse gases, has increased by 40 percent from 1990 to 2016 — with most of that attributable to rising carbon dioxide levels, according to NOAA climate scientists.”

Rather than explaining that human activity is the cause, the agency’s release instead goes on to state that “the role of greenhouse gases on influencing global temperatures is well understood by scientists, but it’s a complicated topic that can be difficult to communicate.”

What? Are NOAA officials in the Trump administration implying that the human role in greenhouse gas emissions is somehow too complicated to explain to the public?

Perhaps that’s why NOAA swapped out last year’s lead photo of flaring fossil fuels for the least complicated — and least informative — image imaginable (see below).

This is a stock photo of “nighttime urban image.”
This is a stock photo of “nighttime urban image.”

It is certainly complicated and difficult to communicate how human activity — especially the burning of fossil fuels — drives warming if the president and most of his appointees deny basic climate science.

Last year’s release, however, shows how easy it is to explain what’s going on. Jim Butler, director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division, explained that “we’re dialing up Earth’s thermostat in a way that will lock more heat into the ocean and atmosphere for thousands of years.”

In this year’s release, Butler’s quote is far less informative: “the greenhouse gas index is based on atmospheric data, so it’s telling us what is happening to Earth’s climate right now.”

Well, the index may be telling us what’s happening to Earth’s climate right now, but NOAA certainly isn’t. And NOAA has company: In May, the Department of the Interior deleted a line explaining how climate change drives sea level rise from its news release on a study about coastal flooding, claiming “it didn’t add anything to the original findings.”

In regard to the Trump administration failing to mention the connection between human activity and greenhouse gas emissions, the New York Times reported that “Theo Stein, a NOAA spokesman, acknowledged in an email that phrasing about humans causing greenhouse gas emissions did not make it into the announcement but noted a second news release that was published on the website of the agency’s office of oceanic and atmospheric research that lists ‘climate change indicators.’”

So the whole humans-cause-GHG-emissions thing didn’t make it into the nine-sentence news release NOAA links to from its front page. But the agency spokesman wants you to feel better because somewhere on their website is a release over twice as long… that also does not mention how humans cause climate change.

Seriously. The second NOAA release Stein refers to has the exact same opening paragraphs as the first, but adds some “climate change indicators” —for instance, “all 16 years of the 21st century rank among the 17 warmest years on record” — again without explaining the cause.

It’s just too complicated and difficult to communicate, I guess.