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White House Blocked Intelligence Agency's Written Testimony Saying Climate Change Could Be 'Possibly Catastrophic'
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=50240"><span class="small">Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Saturday, 08 June 2019 13:22

Excerpt: "White House officials barred a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony this week to the House Intelligence Committee warning that human-caused climate change could be 'possibly catastrophic.'"

A wall of flames lurches over a ridge in California. (photo: Kent Porter/AP)
A wall of flames lurches over a ridge in California. (photo: Kent Porter/AP)

White House Blocked Intelligence Agency's Written Testimony Saying Climate Change Could Be 'Possibly Catastrophic'

By Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Brady Dennis, The Washington Post

08 June 19

Officials sought to excise the State Department’s comments on climate science on the grounds that it did not mesh with the administration’s stance

hite House officials barred a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony this week to the House Intelligence Committee warning that human-caused climate change could be “possibly catastrophic.” The move came after State officials refused to excise the document’s references to federal scientific findings on climate change.

The effort to edit, and ultimately suppress, the prepared testimony by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research comes as the Trump administration is debating how best to challenge the fact that burning fossil fuels is warming the planet and could pose serious risks unless the world makes deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. Senior military and intelligence officials have continued to warn climate change could undermine America’s national security — a position President Trump rejects.

Officials from the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, and National Security Council all raised objections to parts of the testimony that Rod Schoonover, who works in the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues, prepared to present on the bureau’s behalf for a hearing Wednesday.

The document lays out in stark detail the implications of what the administration faces in light of rising carbon emissions that the world has not curbed.

“Absent extensive mitigating factors or events, we see few plausible future scenarios where significant — possibly catastrophic — harm does not arise from the compounded effects of climate change,” the document said.

White House officials took aim at the document’s scientific citations, which refer to work conducted by federal agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to several senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about internal deliberations, Trump officials sought to cut several pages of the document on the grounds that its description of climate science did not mesh with the administration’s official stance. Critics of the testimony included William Happer, a National Security Council senior director who has touted the benefits of carbon dioxide and sought to establish a federal task force to challenge the scientific consensus that human activity is driving the planet’s rising temperatures.

The Trump administration released on Nov. 23 a long-awaited report outlining that climate change impacts "are intensifying across the country." (Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

Schoonover’s draft testimony was peppered with comments from the National Security Council, criticizing his characterization of the threats posed by climate change.

"This is not objective testimony at all,” read one comment, according to an individual familiar with the document. “It includes lots of climate alarm propaganda that is not science at all. I am embarrassed to have this go out on behalf of the executive branch of the Federal Government.”

In another passage, Happer objected to the phrase “tipping point” when describing how a certain level of warming could trigger devastating climate-related impacts, the individual said.

Administration officials said the Office of Legislative Affairs ultimately decided that Schoonover could appear before the House panel but could not submit his office’s statement for the record because it did not, in the words of one official, “jibe” with what the administration is seeking to do on climate change. The official added that legislative affairs and staffers at the Office of Management and Budget routinely review agency officials’ prepared congressional testimony before they submit it.

A House Intelligence Committee aide confirmed that the panel received the written testimony of the two other intelligence officials who testified at Wednesday’s public hearing, but not Schoonover’s.

Francesco Femia, chief executive of the Council on Strategic Risks and co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security, questioned why the White House would not have allowed an intelligence official to offer a written statement that would be entered into the permanent record.

“This is an intentional failure of the White House to perform a core duty: inform the American public of the threats we face. It’s dangerous and unacceptable,” Femia said in an email Friday. “Any attempt to suppress information on the security risks of climate change threatens to leave the American public vulnerable and unsafe.”

Schoonover, who serves as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, could not be reached for comment Friday, and the State Department referred questions to the White House. A White House spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said in an email, “The administration does not comment on its internal policy review.”

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s 12-page prepared testimony, obtained by The Washington Post on Friday, includes a detailed description of how rising greenhouse gas emissions are raising global temperatures and acidifying the world’s oceans. It warns that these changes are contributing to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

“Climate-linked events are disruptive to humans and societies when they harm people directly or substantially weaken the social, political, economic, environmental, or infrastructure systems that support people,” the statement reads. Noting that while some populations may benefit from climate change, it said “the balance of documented evidence to date suggests that net negative effects will overwhelm the positive benefits from climate change for most of the world, however.”

The document sounds the alarms on several fronts, outlining two dozen different ways that “climate-linked stresses” could affect human society. It identifies nine tipping points that could transform the Earth’s system, including “rapid melting in West Antarctic or Greenland ice masses” along with “rapid die-offs of many critically important species, such as coral or insects” and a “massive release of carbon” from methane that is now frozen in the earth. It warns that since scientists have not been able to calculate the likelihood of these thresholds being reached, “crossing them is possible over any future timeframe.”

The prepared testimony also notes that 18 of the past 20 years have ranked as the warmest on record, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, “and the last five years have been the warmest five.”

The White House proposed eliminating all of these scientific references.

Trump has been steadfast in shrugging off warnings from scientists about the potential impacts of climate change, reiterating in an interview with Piers Morgan on “Good Morning Britain” this week that he does not regret pulling the United States out of a 2015 global climate accord aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” he said. “Don’t forget, it used to be called global warming. That wasn’t working. Then it was called climate change. Now it’s actually called extreme weather because, with extreme weather, you can’t miss.”

During the interview he blamed China, India and Russia for polluting the environment and insisted the United States has “among the cleanest climates,” noting that the United States had suffered extreme weather in the past. “Forty years ago, we had the worst tornado binge we’ve ever had. In the 1890s, we had our worst hurricanes.”

The United States remains the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, behind China.

What the president meant by “worst hurricanes” is unclear. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the six most costly hurricanes on record have all occurred since 2005, and three — Maria, Harvey and Irma — have hit the United States during Trump’s tenure. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, in which at least 6,000 people perished, remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

As for tornadoes, they have tended to follow boom-and-bust cycles over the decades. The nation saw a relatively low number of tornadoes last year, although this year already nearly 1,000 have been reported. In general, scientists have warned that climate change will make a variety of extreme weather events more likely, namely droughts, hurricanes and wildfires.

Camilo Mora, a geographer and environmental professor at the University of Hawaii, said in an email that the president is rejecting the conclusions made by scientists in his own government.

“The evidence on this issue is overwhelming,” Mora said. “The president questions our change in jargon from warming to climate change to extremes as uncertainty on our side, but in reality we have come to learn that the impacts of greenhouse gases are much broader than we originally thought. By increasing atmospheric temperature, greenhouse gases can also cause drought and heat waves, ripening conditions for wildfires. In humid places, heat causes constant soil water evaporation leading to extreme precipitation, which falls on saturated soils and thus you commonly also get floods.”

Despite the internal controversy over the testimony prepared for Wednesday’s hearing, all three witnesses detailed ways in which climate-related impacts could exacerbate existing national security risks. Peter Kiemel, counselor at the National Intelligence Council, and Jeffrey Ringhausen, a senior analyst at the Office of Naval Intelligence, talked about issues ranging from how terrorist cells could capitalize on water shortages to disputes with other nations over shifting fishing grounds.

Schoonover, for his part, said in his opening statement that the planet was warming and that it could pose a major risk to the United States and other nations.

“The Earth’s climate is unequivocally undergoing a long-term warming trend, as established by decades of scientific measurements and multiple, independent lines of evidence,” he said, adding later: “Climate change effects could undermine important international systems on which the U.S. is critically dependent, such as trade routes, food and energy supplies, the global economy and domestic stability abroad.”

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+5 # warrior woman 2019-06-09 05:52
They know what the effects of climate change are and will be. What they’re trying to do is position themselves in absolute power over us poor folks that remain. It’ll be like Mad Max, horrifying treatment of humanity with the few elites controlling everything.
+5 # economagic 2019-06-09 07:30
"Senior military and intelligence officials have continued to warn climate change could undermine America’s national security — a position President Trump rejects."

If there were anyone in the House Democratic Caucus with any background in the sciences, or even anyone with common knowledge and common sense, it would not be too difficult to frame the president's rejection of settled science as firm ground for impeachment. If he denied the law of gravity, or the effectiveness of antibiotics in saving lives, or the chemistry behind plastics and other products we take for granted, or that behind his beloved nuclear weapons, it would be clear to the entire world that he was completely unhinged and unfit to serve.

In fact, it IS evident to most of the world and half of the US public, and there are in fact a few degreed scientists in the House and plenty of lawyers.

It does not matter whether his aberrancy results from gross ignorance, or from psychopathology , or from simple meanness and corruption: The Founders of this Republic could never have foreseen a need to write into the Constitution an explicit mandate that the leader of a large nation possessing weaponry capable of annihilating life on earth have some basic education, common decency, and common sense. That is simple common knowledge and common sense.
+4 # Kootenay Coyote 2019-06-09 08:10
‘"This is not objective testimony at all,” read one comment.…’You really have to love this critic who so stigmatized scientific data, while his big boss is allowed to spew nonsense like “I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” he said. “Don’t forget, it used to be called global warming. That wasn’t working. Then it was called climate change. Now it’s actually called extreme weather because, with extreme weather, you can’t miss.” As if all three ween’t true & simultaneous. Or again: the United States has “among the cleanest climates”, whatever that is supposed to mean & as if there was an atom of truth in it. ‘Objective testimony’ eh? Quantum mutatus ab illo USA….
+4 # Elroys 2019-06-09 12:49
We must have many more military leaders, scientists, a few of the rare true business leaders and faith leaders all on the metaphorical stage together - along with young leaders like Greta Thunberg and others - declaring their deep concerns about the climate crisis,,climate emergency and in unison clearly and loudly state that trump and his minions are either ignorant, corrupt, lying or all of the above and that those who believe them do so at their peril, and risk massive and catastrophic consequences for all humanity and life, and soon than most people realize. And then these same leaders must offer hope and actions that can ameliorate these serious threats. Make it clear that these existential threats are also extraordinary economic and job creation opportunities that will transform civilization to the low carbon clean energy economy and future that we all ling for. Yes - the fossil fuel business will no longer be about burning coal, oil and gas. They have the choice, and capital to transition themselves to clean energy sources if they want. Or go the way of the dinosaurs.
By the way - although China is the #1 emitter of greenhouse gases - Americans are #1 in per capita emissions. Every American emits more than 3 times the average person in China. Please be honest about who is most responsible for past and current emissions. Sad to say, trump is truly an existential threat to life. I hate to say this - how can sucn a dishonest buffoon have such an impact.
+1 # DongiC 2019-06-10 07:35
Such a dishonest buffoon can have such an impact because many of our citizens are too lazy or too stupid to carry out their duties of citizenship. They don't inform themselves of critical issues, they don't look at two sides of an argument, they don't do their homework. Our Democracy cannot exist on such ignorance which makes leaders like Trump eminently possible. Suffrage requires work to do it competently. Turn off the TV for a while and start reading and conversing with others and thinking. You can and must do it!