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White House issued a dire climate warning and Republicans aren’t taking it well

One conservative commentator resurrects former go-to phrase, "I'm not a scientist."

American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka. CREDIT: NBC News/screenshot
American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka. CREDIT: NBC News/screenshot

Conservative lawmakers and commentators spent Sunday downplaying the dire warnings in a much-anticipated climate assessment — released Friday by the Trump administration — going as far to accuse the scientists who worked on the report of perpetuating climate “alarmism” in order to keep their jobs.

The scientists who helped draft the fourth National Climate Assessment, according to former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), were attracted to the money that comes with producing a report that highlights the terrible dangers of climate change.

“The reality is that a lot of these scientists are driven by the money that they receive … from people who support their agenda,” Santorum said Sunday in a panel discussion on CNN.

The former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate complained that the report was written by hundreds of scientists in the federal bureaucracy and not Trump appointees.

CNN host Dana Bash shot back: “Meaning they’re nonpolitical.”

But Santorum, who once criticized the Pope for making climate change a moral issue, returned to his argument that job security is driving scientists to conclude that humans are the primary cause of worsening climate change. “If there was no climate change, we’d have a lot of scientists looking for work,” he said Sunday.

The NCA found that sea levels are about nine inches higher and that natural disasters such as hurricanes, heat waves, and wildfires are worsening.

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The Trump administration released the assessment on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a clear attempt to hide the warnings in the report that are diametrically opposed to Trump’s pro-polluter environmental policies.

The congressionally mandated NCA, written by hundreds of the country’s top scientists, warned that a do-nothing climate policy will end up costing Americans more than a half-trillion dollars per year in increased sickness and death, coastal property damages, loss of worker productivity, and other damages.

With significant reductions in emissions, global temperature increase could be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, or less compared to preindustrial temperatures. Without significant reductions, though, annual average global temperatures could increase by a staggering 9 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5 degrees Celsius, or more by the end of this century compared to pre-industrial temperatures, according to the assessment.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), in an interview on Fox News Sunday, expressed concern that his fellow lawmakers are failing to develop innovative ways to fight climate change.

“Right now, you don’t hear a lot of the people who put climate as their No. 1 issue, you don’t hear a lot of them offering constructive, innovative solutions for the future. It’s usually just a lot of alarmism,” Sasse said.

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Sasse, however, overlooked the many innovative proposals that have been introduced to fight climate change over the past year. The most recent innovative plan to fight climate change is one introduced by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Soon after the midterms, Ocasio-Cortez called for the creation of a House select committee for a Green New Deal in Congress. Over the past two weeks, several Democratic House members have backed Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal.

Environmental activists are also pushing for passage of the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act), a major piece of legislation introduced in September 2017 by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that currently has 45 co-sponsors. The bill mandates a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in electricity production, with 80 percent of that shift happening within 10 years.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, issued a well-worn disclaimer about her professional credentials at the beginning of her remarks on the climate assessment and global warming. “Whether it is anthropogenic, I don’t know, I’m not a scientist,” she told the Sunday morning viewers.

Nonetheless, Pletka went on to say: “We need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last hundred years.”

Pletka’s comments were factually wrong and served to confuse viewers about climate change.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Earth’s globally averaged temperature for 2017 made it the third warmest year in NOAA’s 138-year climate record, behind 2016, the warmest, and 2015, the second warmest.

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Scientists also regularly remind the public that global warming isn’t a straight line. There will be record warm moments and not-so-warm moments, but overall the trend is upward.

The most noteworthy portion of the climate discussion on Meet the Press occurred when Pletka said carbon emissions should be addressed but that “we shouldn’t be hysterical” about them.

In response to Pletka’s comment, New York Times reporter Helene Cooper said: “I actually think we should be hysterical. I’m going to disagree with you on this.”

“Anybody who has children or anybody who can imagine having children and grandchildren, how can you look at them and think this is the kind of world that through our own inaction and our inability to do something, that we’d going to leave them?” Cooper asked.

“I’m really glad that you’re actually having us talk about this on this show because I think it was the height of cynicism to release this report on Black Friday by the Trump administration,” Cooper added.

In contrast to the Trump-supporting climate deniers on Sunday’s political talk shows, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), speaking Sunday on CBS News’s Face the Nation, emphasized that the “debate is over about the reality of climate change and the incredible and costly harm it’s going to do this country.”

“We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage that we’re going to have to pay for,” Sanders said. “It’s amazing to me that we have an administration right now that still considers climate change to be a hoax, who is not sure about whether it is manmade.”

The economic harm caused by climate change could be alleviated by a move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy, the Vermont senator said. A transition toward a green economy, he asserted, will create millions of decent-paying jobs and lessen the cost of the damage that climate change will cause to the United States and around the world.

“This is not an issue where we can debate,” Sanders insisted. “The scientific community has made it 100 percent clear that this is a major crisis facing this country and our planet and we have got to be bold and aggressive in standing up to the greed of the fossil fuel industry, who are more concerned about short-term profits than the planet we are leaving our kids and grandchildren.”


UPDATE: On Monday, President Donald Trump weighed in on the 4th National Climate Assessment while speaking to reporters on the grounds of the White House.

“I don’t believe it,” Trump said of his own government’s report warning that the economic impacts of climate change could be devastating.

“Right now we’re at the cleanest we’ve ever been and it’s very important to me,” Trump said.

“But if we’re clean, but every other place on Earth is dirty, that’s not so good,” he said, referring to China and other countries that are seeing their economies grow. “So, I want clean air and clean water. Very important.”