As It Happens

Scientist says it's a 'miracle' Trump administration let climate change report go public

A U.S. federal government report reaches a conclusion President Donald Trump has already rejected — humans cause climate change, and it's getting worse.
Activists participated in the People's Climate March on President Trump's 100th day in office to protest his environmental policies. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
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Story transcript

In a new U.S. federal government report, hundreds of scientists reach a conclusion President Donald Trump has already dismissed — humans are causing climate change, and it's getting worse. 

The report was released Friday ahead of the 23rd conference of the parties, or COP23, in Bonn, Germany, where world leaders gathered on Monday to begin implementing the Paris agreement to fight climate change. 

It is the first major conference on climate change since Trump said that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris accord unless his administration can secure a better deal.

The report is released every four years and is considered the U.S. government's most definitive statement on climate science.

But this year's report goes against Trump's definitive statements on the issue. In the past, he has described climate change as a hoax.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who is one of the lead authors of the report. Here is part of their conversation. 

What is the overarching conclusion of this report?

The 600 pages that make up this report can be summarized in pretty much one sentence: climate is changing, humans are responsible, the risks are serious and the window of time to fix this thing is narrowing fast.

We have been covering so many stories in the past year or two years of all the different weather-borne catastrophes. From heat waves, to fires, floods, heavy rains. There's all kinds of extreme weather events. And are you concluding that most, if not all, of them relate back to climate change?

The reason that we care about a changing climate is because it exacerbates the naturally occurring risks that we already faced in the past. Climate change doesn't create a hurricane, but it makes it stronger and exacerbates the risks and the impacts associated with it.

'Gravity doesn't care if you believe in it or not. If you step off the cliff, you are going down.- Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist 
Climate change is amping up our heat waves, our heavy rain falls, our droughts. That's why we care as humans because our infrastructure, our society, our economy, our agriculture, our water resources — they are all built on the assumption that long-term climate is stable. We are not prepared for this type of rate of change. 
A boy sits on an abandoned boat on what is left of Guatemala's Lake Atescatempa, which has dried up due to drought and high temperatures. (Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a United States government report. Does it have the stamp of approval from the White House?

This report has undergone public comment, a National Academy of Sciences review and multiple agency reviews by every federal agency that has any relevant expertise.

Now, the first agency review happened during the Obama administration, but the final review, which was completed just this past August, did, in fact, occur under the Trump administration.

It was approved for release by those agencies according to law because this report is mandated under the global change research act. The government has to produce one of these reports every four years or else it is actually opens itself up to legal action. 
Canadian scientist Katharine Hayhoe is one of the lead authors of The Climate Science Special Report. (Ashley Rodgers/Texas Tech University)

You know that the administration and the president has articulated that he is a climate change skeptic and he has appointed people to key positions who are also climate change skeptics. Was there any effort to try and suppress this report?

I would quibble a little bit with the word skeptic. A skeptic implies that more evidence would convince them. I would actually call people dismissive. Dismissives are people who will dismiss any evidence that confronts them. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that this report will be dismissed by some of the very people in the government that released it.
We live in a very strange time — a time where somehow the number that a thermometer gives you is perceived to be different depending on whether you vote conservative or liberal. But the reality is that gravity doesn't care if you believe in it or not. If you step off the cliff, you are going down. 
Sea ice is seen from NASA's Operation IceBridge research aircraft shows the ice fields of Ellesmere Island, Canada, are retreating due to warming temperatures. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

And so the fact that this report even came out, which is certainly a minor miracle under this administration, the fact that this report came out as a solid science report that clearly communicates the risks that we are facing and the urgency of swift action to address them — what people do with it, you know, that is politics.

But the report is out there and it lays out the truth of what is happening to our planet and, as you pointed out, in this current political climate that really is a miracle.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story listen to our full interview with Katharine Hayhoe.

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