Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.
Black News on Black Friday
While shoppers were fighting for the last Scruff-A-Luv on the shelf, the Trump administration sneaked out two reports revealing how humans are imperiling the planet’s climate. First up was a report from the United States Geological Survey acknowledging that fossil fuels extracted from public lands were responsible for nearly one-quarter of all U.S. carbon emissions between 2005 and 2014.
That pollution occurred before Trump took office, but the report still qualifies as a Trump shenanigan because of how the administration tried to bury it on Black Friday beneath an even more eye-catching climate report (more on that later).
The USGS report is inconvenient for an administration that has gone to shameful lengths to encourage fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went so far as to tell the oil and gas industry, “Our government should work for you.” (Journalists call this a “Kinsley gaffe”—when a politician says something he or she privately believes to be true but isn’t supposed to say out loud.)
In March, Zinke invited Bureau of Land Management employees to wear a strange accessory—cards featuring a cowboy on one side and an oil rig on the other. He called them “vision cards,” and his spokesperson suggested they reflect the agency’s “multiple use mission.” But some uses are irreconcilable. You can’t conserve the land while drilling for oil and mining for coal. You must choose. Zinke’s choice? Well, it’s pretty obvious.
This year, the Interior Department is expected to offer nearly four million acres of land for leasing in the Lower 48. That would be nearly quadruple the lease rate of 2016, the last year of the Obama administration. There’s no question that Trump and Zinke’s policies are going to increase fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and therefore carbon emissions as well.
That Other Report
Now to the slightly higher-profile climate report that the administration released on Black Friday. If you didn’t get a chance to read the Fourth National Climate Assessment over the holiday weekend, here are the CliffsNotes. In a typical business-as-usual scenario, climate change could shave hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. economy and reduce agricultural yields to 1980s levels. By the mid 20th century, the southeastern United States could have its own wildfire season just like the American West has now. Sea level rise could reach eight feet by the end of the century, destroying or rendering useless billions of dollars’ worth of property.
President Trump, predictably, dismissed the conclusions of his own scientists. “As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it,” he told the Washington Post. He lauded his own “very high levels of intelligence” but confessed that he doesn’t include himself among the “believers.”
You can choose whether or not to believe in the Loch Ness Monster. That is everyone’s right. But if you reject mountains of scientific data and analysis without any evidentiary basis, then you’re not a nonbeliever, you’re a fool.
That’s what’s so maddening about Trump’s climate denial—it’s so extravagantly ignorant. The president obviously hasn’t even bothered to read his own administration’s climate assessment. If he had, he would be either (a) chastened, or (b) capable of speaking at some level of detail about the basis of his disagreement. But he never does that. He shrugs, mutters generalities, and accuses 98 percent of climate scientists of pursuing a political agenda.
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler got in on the act, accusing the report’s authors of deliberately choosing a worst-case emissions scenario at the behest of the Obama administration. His claim drew a rebuke from Obama science adviser John Holdren, who called Wheeler’s allegation “absolutely false” and insisted that his only instruction to the people responsible for the report was to conduct a thorough study.
It’s also a bit odd for the Trump administration to complain about scientists using a worst-case emissions scenario while the administration is doing its best to ensure that the worst-case scenario comes true.
A Little Too Friendly
We already knew that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Scott Pruitt was a place of paranoia and that Pruitt’s communications team divided the media into “friendlies” and “unfriendlies.” This week we learned that some members of the media took their “friendly” status a little too far.
Emails obtained by the Daily Beast via the Freedom of Information Act show that Fox & Friends producers not only asked Pruitt’s handlers for permission to discuss certain topics during his appearances, but in one instance even asked Pruitt’s staff to approve a script read by the show’s “journalists.” The only mystery now is when Pruitt will debut as Fox & Friends’ official coal and oil correspondent.
This is Scott Pruitt, reporting for Fox from inside the pocket of the coal industry.
onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.