Editorial: Yep, humans are main cause of climate change

Published Nov. 12, 2017

The Trump administration's junk science on global warming has taken another major hit, as a report by 13 federal agencies made crystal clear that human activities are now "the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid 20th century." In a large sense the observation was nothing new; this latest report only underscores earlier studies that blamed a warming planet on the burning of fossil fuels and other man-made activities. But now the nation can see the huge divide between the findings of its best scientists and the policies of this White House. It's a collision course that puts every region in America at risk of more damaging and costly hurricanes, flooding, droughts and other extreme disasters.

The draft report, part of a study required by Congress and conducted every four years, found that global average air temperatures increased about 1.8 degrees over the 115-year period ending in 2016. The study noted that "this period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization," with the last three years breaking records for climate-related weather extremes and being the warmest on record across the globe. These trends are expected to continue, with continued declines in Arctic sea ice, worsening flooding and storm events and other impacts that will threaten public health and safety, agriculture and the nation's infrastructure.

The agencies said there is "no convincing alternative explanation" for warming over the last century, declaring that "human activities are now the dominant cause of the observed trends in climate." That should end the Trump administration's war on facts. For several years, Donald Trump described global warming as a Chinese-inspired hoax intended to weaken the U.S. economy. As president, he appointed climate deniers to key posts, including Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency chief and Rick Perry as secretary of energy. The report highlights why America's space agency, NASA, which plays a leading role in monitoring the climate, needs a better leader than Trump's nominee, U.S. Rep. James Bridenstine, a Republican climate skeptic in Congress.

The White House may have made a pragmatic decision not to block the report's release out of concern for inflaming the tax cut debate in Congress. But that doesn't signal any change in the administration's hostility toward a cleaner energy agenda. The U.N. climate conference in Germany is the latest reminder of how Trump weakened U.S. influence by withdrawing America from the 2016 Paris climate accord. How can the United States lead on such an important global economic, health and security issue if the administration cannot even get the science right?

Of course, getting the science right is not Trump's priority. Trump is more interested in promoting a dying industry of the dirtiest fuels. The real news in the latest federal report is how well scientists are tying the knot between climate and extreme weather, and of how plainly they are speaking about the health and economic implications of a warming planet. The scientists also contributed to the public debate by pointing out that the impacts of warming — rising seas, more extreme weather events — are happening now, and in all parts of the country, whether in the form of routine flooding on sunny days to the intrusion of seawater into the drinking water supply.

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The scientists' report is a fresh break from the fake facts on warming this administration has peddled. It will help in providing a baseline to challenge the more unsubstantiated policies arising from this White House.