Federal “State of the Climate” report buries human role in global warming

August 11, 2017, 11:27am

The earth is a hot, gassy mess, according to a report released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. And while the vast majority of scientists agree that this is thanks to human activity, that fact is hard to find in the report.

The “State of the Climate” report, compiled by 450 scientists from more than 60 countries, officially declared 2016 the hottest year on record since scientists began tracking this data over 150 years ago. Concentrations of the planet-warming gas carbon dioxide are also now higher than they’ve ever been in recorded history. (Since carbon dioxide can take thousands of years to completely disappear from Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, global temperatures are unlikely to fall substantially anytime soon.)

The report reads like a greatest hits list of the usual climate change findings and warnings. It also found:

  • The Arctic is warming much more quickly than the rest of the world.
  • Sea levels are at record-high levels and show no sign of going down.
  • Not only has the globe’s average temperature increased, but so have the number of “very warm” months that occur each year (months where the average temperature is in the 90th or higher percentile)

But while the report occasionally mentions that greenhouse gas emissions, which trap warmth inside our atmosphere, are largely caused by human activities like burning fossil fuels, it appears to largely downplay the scientific consensus surrounding humanity’s role in causing climate change. The abstract does not mention that human activities cause greenhouse gas emissions, while most mentions of people emphasize the impact that a changing planet will have on them — not the other way around.

In total, over the course of the 298-page report, there are six separate mentions of fossil fuels as a contributor to carbon dioxide or methane rises, one mention of specifically human-induced climate change, and a few vague mentions of human-induced change in terms like “anthropogenic forcing.”

It’s not the first time this has happened under Trump’s presidency.

Back in July, NOAA released its Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which tracks the warming influence of long-lived greenhouse gases. The report found that these gases have increased by 40 percent since 1990, but its press release failed to mention that humans are the largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions. (The “State of the Climate” press release also skipped any mentions of human-caused change.)

“The role of greenhouse gases on influencing global temperatures is well understood by scientists, but it’s a complicated topic that can be difficult to communicate,” the release reads. This largely echoes Trump administration officials, who often say that humanity’s contributions to climate change remain unclear.

However, a recent draft of the Climate Science Special Report, written by federal government scientists as part of the National Climate Assessment and published by the New York Times last week, makes it clear that climate change is happening and humans are most likely the cause.

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” the draft report reads. It concluded that it is “extremely likely” humans are the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century and that its effects will likely include more intense heat waves, extreme droughts, and severe flooding.

This “State of the Climate” report continues a busy August at NOAA. Earlier this month, the agency reported that the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone — a watery region that’s been drained of oxygen, leaving most wildlife to die or escape — is the largest measured since dead zone mapping emerged in 1985. On Wednesday, the agency reported that the hurricane season might become the most active since 2010.

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