The New York Times has reported that James Reilly, the Trump appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, has ordered a change in the way in which the government collects and reports climate data. Going forward they will use only climate models projecting the impact of climate change through 2040.
This order breaks from standard climate modelling as determined by section 106 in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 that claims climate predictions should be projected 25 to 100 years in the future. According to the same Time report, scientists have predicted that the most devastating effects of man-made global warming will occur after 2050 and that the rate of climate change will remain relatively consistent until then.
Reilly’s order signals that the USGS will use a ‘best-case scenario’ model that purposefully minimizes the danger and impact of anthropogenic global warming. The main target of Reilly’s order is likely the National Climate Assessment, which is produced every four years by a body of intergovernmental agencies in order to determine the broad consequences of climate change.
This policy change is seen as part of a broader push by the Trump administration to politicize climate science, and produce data that artificially minimizes the environmental, social, and economic impacts the public faces from the fossil fuel industry emissions.
Some sources claim that there may be legal challenges to this order to the extent that it could be countermanded in the courts due to the Global Research Act, which was passed by congress in 1989. The underlying legality of the order could be questioned if it violates the principles behind the United States’ climate research program.
The change to USGS policy squarely violates the Precautionary Principle, which states that when dealing with novel circumstances the burden of proof lies in demonstrating that those circumstances do not pose a significant risk. By limiting the scope of its risk assessment from 25-100 years to 20 years, the National Climate Assessment will be hamstrung in its capacity to provide a holistic risk-assessment.
The Precautionary Principle should be a keystone of Environmental policy in an age where the extent of the harm posed climate by change is complex and hard to predict, but Reilly’s order undermines the scientific basis on which policy can be made that protects vulnerable populations.
- Climate Deregulation Tracker
- U.S. Geological Survey
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- NYT Climate Fwd
- Green Peace