Don’t believe me—believe actual climate scientists. I spoke to a few on Wednesday, after The Huffington Post revealed “a list of eight approved talking points on climate change” sent to Environmental Protection Agency employees from EPA political staff on Tuesday night. They confirmed that the EPA’s talking points include two statements on climate science that are misleading, if not completely inaccurate.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.
The ability to measure “the degree and extent” of human impact on modern climate change is not subject to legitimate scientific debate. To say it is contradicts hundreds of climate scientists and 13 federal government agencies (spoiler alert: one is the EPA!), which together released a report last year asserting “that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Extremely likely means scientists are 95 to 100 percent sure. Not much room for debate and dialogue there.
“Nothing other than greenhouse gases can reasonably explain the warming trend we’ve seen,” Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at Columbia University and the NASA Goddard Institute of Space studies, wrote in an email. The EPA is technically correct that we’re still debating “what to do about it,” but climate scientists don’t debate that the only solution is emitting less carbon dioxide.
Here’s the second EPA talking point:
While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.
A less-than-5-percent certainty gap over human activity’s role in climate change does not count as a “clear gap.” As Rachel Cleetus, the climate policy manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told me: “You don’t need to know exactly how many cancer cells are in a human body before administering the therapy. You’ll never know that with exact certainty. But you know treatment is required.”
If the EPA is talking about the actual impacts of human-caused climate change, then, yes, there are many scientific uncertainties about exactly how bad things will get. (I covered all those uncertainties in a previous article.) But even so, “that talking point is an exaggeration,” Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, wrote in an email. “There are some gaps in our understanding, but none big enough that climate change might turn out to be a non-problem. The gaps will determine whether climate change is a mildly serious problem or an extremely serious one. And what we can do about it is quite clear: To stabilize the climate, we need to reduce emissions of GHGs to near zero.”
In short, the EPA is pushing scientifically inaccurate talking points, contradicting its own research, and forcing scientists to explain for the 47,000th time basic concepts that should be widely accepted in intelligent society.