Climate researchers shot down Trump’s EPA administrator in the nerdiest way imaginable
“We test this claim here.”
With these words, climate scientists shot down a dubious claim from the controversial administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, in the most methodical way available to them: by publishing a peer-reviewed scientific study in a reputable journal.
The study, published May 24 in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, debunks Pruitt’s claim — made in written responses to senators during his confirmation process — that satellite data proves temperatures have leveled off in recent decades, rather than continuing to rise in keeping with human-caused global warming.
Like many of Pruitt’s claims about climate science, this one didn’t hold up well to scrutiny.
In the study, scientists led by Benjamin Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory fact-checked Pruitt’s claim using six satellite datasets. They found that there is no 20-year period during which satellite-derived temperatures in the lower atmosphere leveled off, though the study did find that “recent 20-year trends are smaller than most of the earlier 20-year trend values.”
This is due to a variety of factors, including natural climate variability, that helped slow — but not halt — global warming for a period of time.
The study also found that during the full 38-year satellite record from 1979 to 2016, global warming of the lower atmosphere far exceeds what one would’ve expected to see just from natural variability alone.
“Our results support and strengthen previous findings of a large human-caused contribution to warming,” the study found. “Studies involving patterns of tropospheric temperature change (rather than the global averages considered here) yield even stronger evidence of a human fingerprint in the thermal structure of the atmosphere.”
The new work is unique in that it amounts to a rapid response fact-check of a prominent political figure. Pruitt has openly questioned the mainstream scientific conclusions on human-caused global warming.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that Pruitt had a poor understanding of this specific aspect of climate science. This is an official who went on national television in March and denied that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the main cause of global warming.
In the scientific community, there is no debate about that. For Pruitt, though, there is.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC.
“But we don’t know that yet, as far as… we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis,” he said.
Pruitt’s comments stood at odds with the findings published on the EPA’s own climate change website. That site has since been taken down for edits to better reflect the Trump administration’s agenda.
During his short stint at the EPA so far, Pruitt has been steadily rolling back rules limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases, including the Clean Power Plan, which covers coal-fired power plants, and methane rules for natural gas facilities.