As Trump Administration Downplays Warming, Agencies Chronicle Climate Impacts
2019-10-10 20:21

Trump administration officials tend to talk around climate change, but in official documents, they outline an unfolding crisis of extinctions, flooding and fire.


Agencies under President Trump are cataloging climate impacts in the mandatory environmental reviews that precede major federal actions. They describe worsening damage to virtually every ecosystem, from entire forests down to the ocean’s smallest life forms. But officials use those same documents to minimize the connection between that damage and human-caused emissions, especially when the government is considering the impacts of fossil fuel projects, like drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

特朗普总统手下的机构在联邦政府采取重大行动之前对强制性环境审查的气候影响进行了分类。他们描述了从整个森林到海洋中最小的生命形式几乎每一个生态系统的恶化。但官员们利用这些文件,将这种损害与人为排放之间的联系最小化,尤其是在政府考虑化石燃料项目如在北极国家野生动物保护区(Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)钻探石油的影响时。

What emerges from these documents is a story of the Trump administration in microcosm. While officials tell the public not to worry about climate change, they’re running departments that warn of massive damage already unfolding. The administration masks its contribution to that damage by pointing to the small impact of individual oil wells and coal mines—a distraction, experts say, from its energy agenda’s huge cumulative impact.


The documents show that without a broad look at government-sanctioned emissions, the Trump administration has been able to downplay the climate impacts of individual fossil fuel projects and regulatory rollbacks as too insignificant to affect global temperatures.


For example, the administration has said it’s impossible to estimate an oil lease’s emissions because it depends on the drilling equipment, extra infrastructure like pipelines and the oil’s final use. Officials claim it’s impossible to know if forgoing an oil lease would lower emissions. Whatever the true drilling impact, they often say, it’s too small on its own to change global temperatures.


The consequences of these halfhearted climate analyses are still taking shape. They’re unlikely to jeopardize individual projects, experts say, but some see it as a legal vulnerability that could critically delay Trump’s agenda as the administration scrambles to lock in its actions before the 2020 election.


If what’s missing from the documents could be problematic, then what’s included could also prove damaging in the hands of an energized climate movement.


The Trump administration’s own environmental reviews reveal a road map to the country’s biggest climate vulnerabilities: Arctic birds could suffer “catastrophic” effects of warming. Arizona’s ponderosa pine forests face a “clear threat” from changing conditions. Shifts in where ticks and mosquitoes can infect people with diseases like plague and Zika are "already occurring.”


Some experts read these admissions as the product of career scientists quietly working in a little-noticed arena. Others see a more insidious pattern.


In some cases, the Trump administration’s environmental reviews have framed climate change as an unstoppable global force that swamps U.S. actions: Federal greenhouse gas rules are irrelevant amid rising international emissions; the local impacts of drilling are drowned out by the sweeping ecological changes of global warming.


That framing is a way to protect fossil fuel interests without the extra burden of fighting science, advocates said.


“This is a coordinated effort across agencies,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate and energy program.

“这是跨部门的协调努力,”忧思科学家联盟(Union of Concerned Scientists)气候与能源项目政策主任雷切尔·克利特斯(Rachel Cleetus)说。

“The thread that’s running through it all is that basically, first: Deny, deny, deny. Then, when you have to concede the science, because it’s real and obvious and there’s such overwhelming evidence, you go to exactly this place. ... ‘There’s nothing to be done about it, so let’s just let the worst-case scenario unfold.’”


‘The most significant threat’


More than 150 years ago, leprosy arrived in the Kingdom of Hawaii.


King Kamehameha V, watching an epidemic unfold, exiled anyone with the disease to the remote Kalaupapa peninsula, where sufferers would be quarantined by cliffs on one side and ocean on the other. It was more of an open-air prison than a hospital. A man who was sent there at age 13 recalled the guards telling him, “This is your last place. This is where you are going to stay, and die.”

国王卡米哈米哈五世(Kamehameha V)目睹了一场流行病的爆发,将任何有这种疾病的人流放到偏远的卡劳帕帕半岛(Kalaupapa peninsula)。与其说这是一所医院,不如说这是一所露天监狱。一名13岁时被送到这里的男子回忆说,警卫告诉他,“这是你最后的地方。”这是你要呆的地方,你会死的。”

More than 15 cemeteries and several hundred unmarked graves rest on the low-lying peninsula. The quarantine law was lifted in 1969 after a leprosy treatment was developed, though some residents chose to stay in the only home they’d ever known. About a dozen still live there today.


But tomorrow is an open question.


The National Park Service found in 2018 that Kalaupapa’s historic buildings and cultural sites are threatened by sea-level rise. So is the land itself; the peninsula’s sandy beaches are being “reduced or eliminated” by climate-fueled erosion, leaving sea creatures without nesting spots. Hawaii has experienced more than 5 inches of sea-level rise already, and large waves that appear without warning—so-called sneaker waves—can penetrate deep into the coastal park, the service’s environmental review found.


A more detailed analysis of climate impacts was shelved, even as Hawaii warned that federal actions “do not engage” with the state’s climate plan. The park service declined to use the 2018 review to dive deep into climate impacts—despite a 2015 draft of the review that had discussed it at length.


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