Not for the first time in this administration, a downgrading of scientific expertise—especially as it relates to climatic issues—has become evident. A recent case involves the reassignment of dozens of Interior Department senior executive personnel responsible for such topics within their research portfolio.
One can scarcely minimize the significance of such downgrading and the pace at which it appears to be occurring. At the same time, let’s take note of at least the occasional exception to this bandwagon momentum. While such administration heavy weights as Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency) and Rick Perry (Department of Energy) are as hardline climate-science skeptics as the president who appointed them, there is one administration “outlier” position worth documenting, especially since it has received virtually no press coverage. Undermining President Trump and various loyalists’ broad-brush characterization of global warming as poor or unproven science, one prominent official, Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, is on public record as recognizing that a warming climate is already under way and has noted—some would say prophetically—that “this warming is projected to fuel more intense and frequent extreme weather events that will be distributed unequally in time and geography. Countries with large populations in coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to tropical weather events and storm surges….” These judgments were transmitted to the US Senate Intelligence Committee in the document “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” on May 11, 2017. Less “officially” than the Coats submission indicates, Department of Defense secretary Jim Mattis is another administration appointee who reportedly shares such climate change concerns.
Who knows whether such judgments from loyal and respected cabinet members might impel the president to yield some ground on the climate issue. A test may come when and how the White House signals its stance on a recent, and much more exhaustive, climate study than the Committee on Intelligence finding. I refer to the final—and National Academy of Sciences-vetted—draft version of the “US Global Research Program Climate Science Special Report (CSSR)” of June 17, 2017. Clearly, such a voluminous (669-page) effort deserves, and no doubt will receive, critical scrutiny. For its part, the New York Times encapsulates the document as follows: “The draft report by scientists from 13 federal [my italics] agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain and that the ability to predict the effect is limited.”