President Donald Trump reminded the public on Monday, in honor of Earth Day, that while his administration values the environment, “environmental protection and economic prosperity go hand in hand.” Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler have publicly stated that climate change is not the White House’s main environmental priority.
In March, in his first televised interview after being confirmed as the EPA chief, Wheeler told CBS that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out,” contradicting the conclusions of top scientists in the US government and international organizations like the UN.
Instead, Wheeler stressed that access to clean drinking water was the greatest concern facing the environment, a sentiment echoed in the White House’s Earth Day statement, which said the administration is working to strengthen the “security and reliability of our drinking water and accelerating spending on water infrastructure.”
An analysis by the environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club, released Monday, found nine instances in which Wheeler’s statements about the delayed impact of climate change were directly contradicted in the National Climate Assessment, a government-sponsored climate analysis authored by scientists from 13 federal agencies that was released in November. (there is no link to this analysis because they gave it to us exclusively)
Other major scientific studies, including one produced by the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, also contradict Wheeler’s claims. “Human-induced global warming” has caused “multiple observed changes in the climate system,” according to the International Panel on Climate Change Special Report.
Here are nine examples from the National Climate Assessment directly contradicting Wheeler’s statement that climate change impacts are still 50 to 75 years away, according to the Sierra Club’s analysis.
1. Sea level rise
Sea level rise “has already increased the frequency of high tide flooding by a factor of 5 to 10 for several U.S. coastal communities,” according to the National Climate Assessment. The report says that the rise has contributed to coastal flooding since the 1960s.
2. Higher temperatures
Between 1901 and 2016, the global average temperatures “have increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit,” and there is no evidence that the rise in temperature has been caused by any “natural explanation,” according to the report.
“The evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause,” the report states.
3. Hotter years
Each decade has been the hottest on record in succession over the past 30 years. Seventeen of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001, according to the report.
4. More wildfires
Areas burned by wildfires covered “twice what would have burned if climate change had not occurred” from 1984 to 2015. The area that was burned by wildfires between 1916 and 2003 “was more closely related to climate factors than to fire suppression, local fire management, or other non-climate factors,” the report states.
Trump was highly critical of the Interior Department and California’s government during the California wildfires in fall 2018. He publicly blamed “gross mismanagement” for the devastating wildfires, saying it was largely caused by poor “forest management” in tweets.
5. Harm to coral reefs
The report found that global warming has led to “coral diseases” and “mass bleaching” off Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Florida, Hawaii and the US-affiliated Pacific Islands. These diseases “threaten reef ecosystems.”
6. Damage to military assets
Climate change is “already affecting” the Department of Defense’s infrastructure, according to the report, by “damaging roads, runways, and waterfront infrastructure.”
7. Clean water
Wheeler said that access to clean drinking water worldwide was “the biggest environmental threat.” Climate change is affecting the water infrastructure that keeps water in our country clean. “Changes in the frequency and intensity of climate extremes,” compared with the 20th century, are “deteriorating water infrastructure,” the report states.
8. Relocation of indigenous communities
The report found that “climate-related impacts” are causing some US indigenous communities to “consider or actively pursue community re-location as an adaptation strategy.” Because they are struggling with severe effects of climate change, the residents are considering uprooting their communities, which could make it harder to maintain “cultural and community continuity,” the report notes.
9. Injury, illness and death
Climate change is affecting the health and well-being of the American people, according to the report. “Climate-related changes in weather patterns and associated changes in air, water, food and the environment” are “causing injuries, illnesses and death,” the report states.
While access to clean drinking water is a major issue in the United States and around the world, under Wheeler, the agency changed two policies to weaken regulatory protections for water.