The Trump administration escalates its war on reality

The reality about climate change isn't convenient, or comfortable. So the administration is pretending it isn't there.

President Trump looks up at the partial solar eclipse from the White House in 2017. (Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump looks up at the partial solar eclipse from the White House in 2017. (Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration is intensifying its effort to discredit climate science by recruiting a select group to try to cast doubt on the facts it doesn’t like — all under the guise of an official review.

President Donald Trump, who dismissed climate change as a “hoax” on the campaign trail, has filled his administration with people who would go to great lengths to stifle, obscure, and mock any evidence to the contrary. Even though the actual science regarding the effects of climate change has only grown more robust and stark during Trump’s time in office, the administration seems to be digging deeper into its proverbial hole in the sand — burying its head to shield itself from the reality of the world.

William Happer, the senior director of emerging technologies at the National Security Council, is advancing his plan to reexamine thoroughly-reviewed climate science and briefed Trump on it earlier this month, E&E News reported Friday. (This appears to be one of the only briefings related to climate policy that the president has received; notably, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said at the end of last year that he had never once briefed Trump on climate change.)

Happer, a physics professor and prominent climate science denier, has touted the supposed benefits of burning fossil fuels. He claims there is a carbon dioxide “drought,” and has said more carbon pollution “would be a benefit” to humanity. In a 2014 CNBC appearance, Happer angrily defended comments he made claiming “the demonization of carbon was just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”


With his new platform on the National Security Council, Happer will reportedly attempt to question scientific findings in the government’s own National Climate Assessment (NCA), released by the Trump administration last fall.

The assessment, written by hundreds of scientists and researchers across the federal government, was exceedingly clear that climate change is already impacting every corner of the United States, and that doing nothing will cost Americans hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Those findings reportedly enraged Trump, who “has told aides that he thinks the Earth’s climate will begin cooling again, so there is no need to act forcefully before then.” Thus, his top officials are now seeking out their own version of science.

Sources told E&E that Happer and others considered using federal researchers, but ultimately elected to tap “outside researchers who have legitimate academic credentials but who disagree with established climate science.” They include John Christy and Judith Curry, both of whom have long worked in opposition to the vast majority of climate scientists to claim humans have only played a minor role in driving global warming.

The NCA’s alarming findings generated significant attention (despite its release over the Thanksgiving holiday), forcing members of the administration to downplay its own report. Trump and other top officials claimed the findings were exaggerated — a suggestion that is “simply false,” according to Michael Wehner, a senior staff scientist in the Computational Research Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and assessment author. “This is probably the most highly reviewed document of all time,” he told ThinkProgress last December.


As Happer’s initiative moves forward, other top Trump officials are pursuing their own efforts to manipulate science in order to produce an outcome that seems more desirable. James Reilly, a former petroleum geologist appointed by Trump to run the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has reportedly mandated that the agency’s scientific assessments only examine climate impacts up to 2040, rather than 2100. Instead of owning up to the consequences of its policies, the administration will instead just erase them.

Over at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Administrator Andrew Wheeler needs his aggressive rollback of environmental protections to seem less dire than it really is, so he’s attempting to “cook the books,” altering the way the agency calculates risk to make the projected outcome less damaging to human health and the environment.

The complementary component of the Trump climate agenda — boosting the fossil fuel industry whenever possible — is also getting an image refresh. In a press release this week, an Energy Department official touted record natural gas production and said the agency is doing its part to export “molecules of U.S. freedom” to the world. Another official said the approval of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Texas “is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world.”

This farce would be a lot funnier if the issue at hand wasn’t quite literally a matter of life and death.

In an alarming report released last fall, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world must make sharp reductions in global CO2 emissions by 2030 to keep temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and have any plausible chance of averting catastrophic climate change.

Yet, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the U.S. rose by 2.7% in 2018, Rhodium Group announced Friday — the second largest annual increase since 2000. Economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions likely rose by between 1.5% and 2.5% last year. Last month, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere hit a record high (415 parts per million) — never before in human history has there been so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In 2018, the U.S. alone experienced 14 different climate and weather-related disasters, each costing over a billion dollars.


As the impacts associated with our current trajectory become painfully clear, Americans’ concern about the climate crisis is rising. Several Democratic presidential candidates are responding to that concern with robust plans to slash emissions, boost clean energy deployment, and help communities prepare for the dramatic transition that is required. Even Republicans in Congress — long comfortable with their party’s refusal to acknowledge, let alone address, climate change — are starting to change their tune, with some now scrambling to demonstrate their interest in action. 

But the Trump administration and its small cohort of extremists remain firm in their refusal to accept reality — even when they’re mocked by the likes of the Russian government for their absurd approach to climate change. The reality isn’t convenient, or comfortable, so they’ve elected to pretend it isn’t there.

In the words of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, a force of nature at just 16 years old, “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before. Like now. And those answers don’t exist any more. Because you did not act in time.”

This article has been updated to clarify that never before in human history have carbon dioxide levels reached 415ppm.