Even the Trump Administration Acknowledges That Global Temperatures Are Rising to Catastrophic Levels

So why bother regulating anything?

Mindy Schauer/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Predictions of climate change’s devastating impact—coastal flooding, demonstrable sea level rise, and more extreme weather events, to name a few—are so ubiquitous it becomes nearly impossible to fully understand their potentially catastrophic implications. But an acknowledgement last week that global temperatures may rise by a shocking 7 degrees by 2100 was startling for many reasons, especially because the Trump administration was the source of the estimate. 

The surprising forecast was buried deep within a 500-page draft impact analysis produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to justify President Donald Trump’s decision to roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. By using a scenario in which the government never adjusted the original fuel efficiency benchmarks set by Congress in 1975, the NHTSA acknowledged that global temperatures would rise on average by 6.271 degrees Fahrenheit. 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The estimate, which was first reported last week by the Washington Post, was not included to justify the importance of combating climate change, the newspaper reported. “Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.”

Environmental advocacy groups reacted sharply to the report. “Giving up and embracing the apocalypse isn’t leadership,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement in response to the Post story. “It is an abdication of duty and a threat to the future of our country.” 

Since taking office, the Trump administration has downplayed the role humans play in contributing to warming temperatures and shown reluctance to link extreme weather events, like wildfires, to climate change. After intense lobbying by the fossil fuel industry and other opponents of environmental regulations, Trump officials rescinded several Obama-era regulations intended to combat the impact of global warming; Trump, who has repeatedly called global warming a “hoax,” withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Even as government scientists have continued to attribute climate change to human activity, White House officials privately discussed in a memo leaked earlier this year whether to simply “ignore” these conclusions. 

And yet, some of the most revealing information concerning the consequences of Trump administration policies have come from the government’s own environmental impact statements. In August, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a series of regulations to replace Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which the agency described as “overly prescriptive and burdensome” in a press release. But even as the administration noted how Trump’s plan would offer savings for operators of nuclear power plants and grant more regulatory autonomy to states, the agency’s impact analysis concluded it would also lead to thousands of more deaths over decades.

Overall, the administration’s argument appears to be that the effects of climate change are not preventable, so any burdensome regulations simply hurt businesses while delaying the inevitable. Heritage Foundation research fellow Nick Loris told the Post that Obama’s climate policies were “mostly symbolic.” In fact, he continued, “Frivolous is a good way to describe it.” 

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate