On Oct. 6, United Nations policy makers approved a report presenting a “dire” picture of the coming changes to the planet, including the extinction of coral reefs, spikes in extreme weather events like hurricanes or drought, and widespread food and water shortages that would multiply the risks of mass migration, political instability, and global war.
But in the nearly two weeks since the report’s release, the federal government has avoided the subject or declined to discuss it at length.
A spokesperson from the New York headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told The Daily Beast that she was unaware of the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “What report?” she asked. “I haven’t heard of it.”
After further discussion, the EPA spokesperson declined to comment on whether the government agency had reviewed the paper or made any plans to respond to it. Representatives from the other nine regional offices either declined to comment, did not respond to requests for comment, or deferred to the D.C. office. In an email to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for the national office wrote that the agency would not endorse the report’s findings.
“We appreciate the hard work of the scientists and experts, many from the United States, who developed this report under considerable time pressure. In accordance with IPCC procedures, the report and its contents remain the responsibility of its authors,” the spokesperson wrote. “Governments do not formally endorse specific findings presented by the authors. The United Stated [sic] continues to lead the world in GHG reductions having reduced our emissions by 14% since 2005.”
The EPA declined to discuss the findings by phone. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, meanwhile, did not respond to requests for comment on the IPCC report.
It’s not just officials at the EPA and the OSTP that have shown indifference to the dire climate projections. In the week after the report’s publication, the president, who has previously called climate change a “hoax,” was uncharacteristically reserved on the question of rising global temperatures. When Trump visited Florida just days before it would face Michael, a storm even climate skeptic Rick Scott called “the worst hurricane the Florida panhandle has ever seen,” the president said only that he was aware of the IPCC’s publication.
“It was given to me,” he said, before noting that he wanted to look at “who drew it.” Later, Trump told journalist Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes that, although he would no longer deny climate change, he was not sure whether it was caused by human activity, and that it could “go back” on its own. When Stahl disagreed, Trump added: “You’d have to show me the scientists. Because they have a very big political agenda. Scientists also have a political agenda.”
A lack of urgency from the administration has become the dominant feature of their climate change policy—to the extent that one exists. That’s true even as warnings over climate change have grown increasingly alarming.
The 800-page document from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change effectively handed the world a 12-year deadline to avoid total climate devastation. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the paper an “ear-splitting wake-up call to the world.” Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland described its conclusions as a “ticking time bomb.” And Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, compared the report’s reception to a “deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen.”
Among world leaders, Trump seems to be the only one who didn't hear that alarm go off. But his proclaimed mistrust of scientists didn’t stop him from asserting on Tuesday that he had scientific chops of his own. In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump noted that his uncle was “a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump.” While the two never “talked about this particular subject,” the president claimed that he has “a natural instinct for science.”
A natural instinct may be necessary since the administration has continued to expel the actual experts, even in the face of the crucial IPCC report. Last week, the EPA fired dozens of scientists who had been hired to advise the agency on air pollution standards. In an email obtained by The Washington Post, the EPA reportedly told several experts on the health impacts of soot that their “service on the panel has concluded.” They later informed a dozen more specialists recruited to advise on ground-level ozone that the panel would be dissolved before it had even met.
At the same time, the OSTP—which fired the majority of its energy and environment staff last year and has not filled the seats—continues to operate without a leader. The head of OSTP usually advises the president on issues related to engineering, technology, science and the environment. But nearly two years into Trump’s term, no one has been confirmed, extending the office’s longest vacancy since 1976. At present, the White House’s highest ranking science official is Michael Kratsios, a 31-year-old Silicon Valley veteran, with a political science degree and ties to Peter Thiel.
In July, Trump nominated a well-respected meteorologist named Kelvin Droegemeier to the post. Droegemeier’s selection was hailed by the scientific community as a small victory for the environment. Though the former-professor has not spoken publicly about his views on climate change, he specializes in extreme weather events, and many believe he respects the conclusions of his academic peers. Still, his confirmation was not moved through the Senate before they adjourned for recess this fall.
Droegemeier did return an email requesting his thoughts on the IPCC’s findings, but only to say that he would be equally mum. “Thanks very much for writing!” Droegemeier wrote to The Daily Beast. “Given that I’ve not yet been confirmed, I’m not in a position to comment. But I do appreciate you reaching out!”