CLIMATE SCIENCE & POLICY WATCH is the flagship program of the Government Accountability Project's Environment & Energy Program, covering safety and health issues in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries, clean air and water, land use, and toxics. We represent whistleblowers, conduct public interest investigations, and lead Know Your Rights Campaigns – read more here.

CSPW CORE INITIATIVES
1. Promoting Scientific Integrity & Exposing Disinformation and the Denial of Climate Science
2. Watchdogging Federal Government Climate Programs & Legislation
3. Investigating the Role of Big Oil in Thwarting Solutions to the Climate Crisis
4. Know Your Rights Campaigns & Public Interest Investigations
5. Ensuring Climate Change is Included in National Energy Policy & Planning
6. Promoting National Preparedness for Climate Change Impacts

HISTORY OF GAP'S ENVIRONMENT & ENERGY PROGRAM
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Taking Stock of Climate Change Impacts: How Many Puerto Rican Lives Did Hurricane Maria Take?

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We Don’t Know for Sure, and the Death Toll is Still Climbing

by Anne Polansky
Sr. Climate Policy Analyst

The 2018 hurricane season is now upon us, even while millions of people residing in hurricane alley – the large swath of ocean stretching from Africa to North America – are still recovering from the hyperactive, catastrophic 2017 hurricane season. Last year we saw Hurricanes Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, and Ophelia – 10 hurricanes in all – swoop through the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans, some wreaking a path of major destruction and devastation. Six of these were considered to be major hurricanes, reaching Category 3 and above. In addition, there were seven named tropical storms. 2017 was the fifth most active hurricane season in recorded history, and featured the highest total accumulated cyclone energy (ACE), or the cumulative wind energy for all hurricanes and storms over a season. To many, this is proof-positive of the deleterious effects of climate change: a warmer atmosphere and warmer waters pump energy and water into tropical storms, creating “hurricanes on steroids,” as the preeminent climate scientist Stephen Schneider would often quip. (See CSPW related posts on hurricanes as climate change impacts: for example, here, here, and here, also listed below.)

Source link: https://grist.org/briefly/we-will-never-know-how-many-people-died-in-puerto-rico-because-of-hurricane-maria/

For Puerto Rico, Hurricanes Irma and Maria packed a harsh one-two punch that brought the island nation to its knees last September, wiping out the entire electricity grid, toppling buildings, downing trees, flooding large areas, and rendering parts of Puerto Rico uninhabitable. The island is still heavily crippled: many are still without power and the entire electricity grid is prone to crashing every few weeks; many lack potable water, sufficient food, and safe shelter. Hundreds of thousands have fled and are still fleeing to the U.S. mainland and elsewhere. Well over one thousand Puerto Ricans have lost their lives as the direct result of Hurricane Maria, and the true mortality rate is still climbing. Yet, we do not have in place methods for accurately counting the death toll following such disasters. Worse, we vastly underestimate the mortality rate by counting only those who die in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. This needs to change if we are to accurately assess the number of human lives lost following extreme weather events associated with climate change.
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Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Mitigation, Climate Change Preparedness, Energy, General, Global Climate Disruption and Impacts, Global Warming Denial Machine, National Security, Politicization of Climate Science, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Taking Stock of Climate Change Impacts: How Many Puerto Rican Lives Did Hurricane Maria Take?

As Fossil Fuels Melt the Planet, Could Climate Change Cause a Nuclear Meltdown?

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by Anne Polansky
Sr. Climate Policy Analyst

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following an earthquake and a tsunami. SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2qhoWGq

Nearly three dozen nuclear power plants are inadequately protected against major flooding guaranteed to occur after an upstream dam failure – flooding that could easily lead to an accident or meltdown on the scale of the 2011 nuclear power disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

Yet, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – the federal agency responsible for protecting public health and safety from nuclear power mishaps – has been downplaying the risk and failing to ensure that the measures needed to avert disaster are implemented.

Even more troubling, the agency is deliberately concealing the threat by withholding critical information from the public eye, according to a handful of experienced NRC engineers and risk analysts. For voicing their concerns to management regarding this dangerous vulnerability and seeking internal resolution of the problem, these conscientious federal employees have been met with resistance and retaliation.

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Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists, Climate Change Mitigation, Climate Change Preparedness, Climate Science Watch, Energy, General, National Security, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, Whistleblowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on As Fossil Fuels Melt the Planet, Could Climate Change Cause a Nuclear Meltdown?

As the Trump Administration Tries to Tamp Down Climate Change, We are Rising Up to Meet the Challenge

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by Anne Polansky and Michael Termini

More than one full year into a Donald Trump presidency, we are taking stock of the new political landscape, already marked by turmoil and volatility. Never before in modern US history have we seen such instability and unreliability in basic governance at the federal level. Here in the nation’s capital, just about everything feels upside down and inside out. Each day’s news serves as a reminder that what once would have been considered abnormal behavior is increasingly giving way to the bizarre. The rapidity and growing accumulation of a host of upsetting, precedent-breaking developments can feel as dizzying and disorienting as being swept up in a Kansas farm house, spinning in a cyclone towards Oz, and waking up in the Twilight Zone.

Well-established scientific findings (such as those regarding anthropogenic global warming and climate change impacts) and simple facts are routinely cast aside by the Trump White House and virtually every federal department head. A significant proportion of executive branch positions remain vacant (including key positions in science and technology – we still do not even have a White House Science Advisor). The White House has been preoccupied with the judicial branch, hastily filling the courts with judges whose views and track records align politically with the (extreme) right wing. Meanwhile, government employees continue to leave their posts in droves. Those who remain privately confess to us their growing frustration at the disrespect they feel from top management, and from feeling prevented from doing the job they were hired to do. Congress is failing to conduct proper oversight, accountability is going out the window, and employees feel chilled into silence. Without a functional democracy, there can be no federal role in responding to voter demand, not only for a clean energy economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels, but also for clean air, water, large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and a robust federal climate change science program.
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Posted in Activism, Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Preparedness, Climate Science Censorship, Climate Science Watch, Climate Science Watch Update, General, Global Climate Disruption and Impacts, Global Warming Denial Machine, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Whistleblowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on As the Trump Administration Tries to Tamp Down Climate Change, We are Rising Up to Meet the Challenge

U.S. Fails to Submit Reports on 1 January as Required Under U.N. Climate Treaty

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By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow

The United States has failed to meet a key deadline (January 1, 2018) for submitting a major report, required under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under Section 12 of the UNFCCC, countries listed in Annex I of the Convention (including the US) are required to periodically submit to the Treaty’s Secretariat a detailed “National Communication,” which presents a wide range of information regarding the nation’s implementation of the agreement. UNFCCC guidelines on reporting and review stipulate use of a common format to facilitate analysis and evaluation and allow for comparisons among the national reports. Further, CSPW sees no indication that this report is even underway; a complete failure to submit this report would be unprecedented.

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Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Mitigation, Climate Change Preparedness, General, Global Climate Disruption and Impacts, Obama Administration, Obama Climate Plan, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, U.S. Global Change Research Program | Comments Off on U.S. Fails to Submit Reports on 1 January as Required Under U.N. Climate Treaty

Scientific Integrity at Risk: Government Censorship of Climate Change Information

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By Anne Polansky
CSPW Sr. Climate Policy Analyst

The Trump Administration’s overall approach to climate change is basically akin to shouting LA-LA-LA-LA-LA with your hands over your ears. Cabinet members and top officials across departments and agencies are refusing to admit that this existential threat even exists, and are behaving as though the problem is not real or will magically disappear if it is not talked about or acknowledged in any way. This bizarre case of group denial does have one plausible explanation: scientific findings (i.e., anthropogenic climate change is real, and has dangerous impacts that are happening now and will worsen over time) are antithetical to a shared ideology (i.e. “climate change is a hoax”). Moreover, facing the problem squarely and honestly runs contrary to a shared value system – one that discounts the need for government regulation, favors industry growth and profit over public health and safety, and places a high priority on maximizing domestic fossil fuel extraction. Al Gore had it right: the truth of climate change is simply too inconvenient for this bunch.

Scientific integrity across US government agencies is at risk, and must be aggressively defended…

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Posted in Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Science Censorship, Global Warming Denial Machine, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, U.S. Global Change Research Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scientific Integrity at Risk: Government Censorship of Climate Change Information

US Global Change Research Program Released Three Major Climate Reports Today

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By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow

The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released three major reports this afternoon: the final Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), the public review draft of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) and the public review draft of the 2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR-2). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the release of the reports yesterday, November 2, in a media advisory: “Experts to discuss new federal climate science report for the U.S.” It announced that the CSSR and draft NCA4 were being released today. We provide a few comments related to the CSSR and the NCA4, and will have more to say about all three reports once we review them.

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Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Preparedness, Climate Science Censorship, Climate Science Watch, Global Warming Denial Machine, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Whistleblowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on US Global Change Research Program Released Three Major Climate Reports Today

Gag Orders Imposed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Research Staff Infringe on Civil Servant First Amendment Rights and May Violate EPA Policy Restricting Censorship

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Source: Tim Faulkner on Twitter, see: http://bit.ly/2gUk5Xy

By Anne Polansky
CSPW Sr. Climate Policy Analyst

Last week, the Trump Administration’s sustained attack on federal scientists studying climate change science and impacts escalated when US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt issued last-minute gag orders preventing several EPA research staff from giving planned presentations at a workshop about the overall health of the Narragansett Bay. This is the first such documented incident of speech censorship at the EPA of which we are aware. It is possible, if not likely, that there have been other similar instances that have gone unreported and relatively unnoticed.

News of the intervention by EPA headquarters got out, and The New York Times broke the story last Sunday afternoon; the Washington Post published a similar account that evening. By Monday morning, protesters holding signs reading “Science Trumps Silence,” “Un-gag Science,” and “Denial is Not a Policy” had gathered and lined the entrance to the Save The Bay Center in Providence where the workshop and press conference were held (see photo above).

CSPW is investigating the incident, and GAP attorneys are concerned that the EPA may not only be in violation of its own “scientific integrity” policy restricting censorship, but that it is attempting to infringe on the First Amendment rights enjoyed by all Americans, including civil servants. Details of the gag order, the response from Members of Congress and the public, and a discussion of the potential legal recourse available to the EPA staff follow.

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Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Preparedness, Climate Science Censorship, Global Climate Disruption and Impacts, Global Warming Denial Machine, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, Whistleblowers | Comments Off on Gag Orders Imposed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Research Staff Infringe on Civil Servant First Amendment Rights and May Violate EPA Policy Restricting Censorship

Trump Administration Extends for 6 months the subcommittee overseeing U.S. Global Change Research Program

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By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow

We reported on Friday, October 20th, that the charter of the interagency Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) was set to expire the next day on Saturday, October 21, 2017. The SGCR is a subcommittee of the committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainability (CENRS) of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). It is responsible for overseeing the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Climate Science and Policy Watch had for months been trying to obtain the current SGCR charter from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and on Wednesday October 18th, finally received a copy in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

In our piece, Charter Set to Expire for Interagency Subcommittee Overseeing Federal Climate Research (October 20th, 2017), we noted that there were several possible scenarios going forward. “One scenario is that the SGCR charter is extended once again. This could happen before the current charter expires or sometime soon.” That indeed is what has happened. On Monday, October 23rd, we obtained a copy of an extension to the charter. The latest extension, dated Friday, October 20th, pushes the expiration date to April 21, 2018. It is the second consecutive 6-month extension of the charter. The extension was signed by Chloe Kontos, the Executive Director of the NSTC. The original Obama-era charter that is being extended was valid for well over 3 years. It was adopted in September 2013 under President Obama and expired January 20th, 2017.

The original charter that is being renewed says that “[u]nless renewed by the co-chairs of the CENRS prior to its expiration, this charter of the SGCR shall terminate no later than January 20, 2017.” The extensions made under the Trump Administration explicitly note that before the expiration dates, the SGCR can be terminated by the Assistant to the President on Science and Technology or by the NSTC Executive Director.

Stay tuned for further updates.

 

Nicky Sundt is CSPW’s Senior Fellow. She is an expert on energy and climate change with over 35 years of experience and accomplishment in government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. During the four-month fellowship, Nicky will watch over and report on key US federal climate science obligations under law – especially those relating to communications to the President, Congress, and the public.

Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Preparedness, General, National Security, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, U.S. Global Change Research Program | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Trump Administration Extends for 6 months the subcommittee overseeing U.S. Global Change Research Program

Charter Set to Expire for Interagency Subcommittee Overseeing Federal Climate Research

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By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow

The charter of the subcommittee that oversees the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is set to expire tomorrow, October 21, 2017. This speaks volumes about the Trump Administration’s attitudes toward science generally – and toward climate change science specifically. More ominously, it raises very serious questions about the future of the USGCRP, which in early November is expected to release its Climate Science Special Report, the public review draft of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and the public review draft of the State of the Carbon Cycle Report.

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Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Mitigation, Climate Change Preparedness, Climate Science Censorship, Global Warming Denial Machine, Obama Administration, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Whistleblowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Charter Set to Expire for Interagency Subcommittee Overseeing Federal Climate Research

As Whistleblower Joel Clement Calls on Interior Secretary Zinke to Resign, Even Stronger Steps for Government Accountability are Needed

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By Anne Polansky
CSPW Sr. Climate Policy Analyst

Sec. Zinke posing at Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo Credit: Ryan David Brown, The New York Times

“Secretary Zinke, you should resign effective immediately,” federal whistleblower Joel Clement wrote in a CNN opinion piece published yesterday evening. After seven years of public service, Clement left his Senior Executive Service (SES) post at the Department of Interior (DOI) last week after submitting a fiery letter of resignation (see our two posts, here and here). After blowing the whistle in July, Clement has been openly and fiercely critical of Secretary Zinke, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt (a former oil industry lobbyist), and President Trump. The primary point of contention stems from Clement’s abrupt, involuntary reassignment to an office that collects oil company royalty checks from his post as top policy advisor, where he focused primarily on the deleterious effects of climate change on Alaskan communities. Clement, a biologist, was ill-equipped for the role assigned to him because it required sophisticated accounting skills, and he has expressed a strong reluctance to waste the taxpayer dollars needed to train him.

Despite accusations of air travel abuses, the chances that Secretary Zinke will resign are slim to none, and there is no indication that President Trump will ask him to leave. The stronger imperative, regardless of who holds office, is to hold accountable federal officials for any documented wrongdoing. Clement’s courageous actions and words to date highlight the urgent need for critically important checks and balances on Executive Branch overreach. Several important investigations into Clement’s transfer and that of many others at Interior are underway and must continue. At this point, it is critical that we strenuously exercise the checks and balances so central to the US Constitution in order to avoid a dangerous imbalance of power – the sort of imbalance that history teaches us can too easily lead to tyranny.

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Posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Attacks on Climate Science and Scientists, Climate Change Education and Communication, Climate Change Preparedness, Climate Science Censorship, Global Climate Disruption and Impacts, Global Warming Denial Machine, National Security, Science Communication, Science-Policy Interaction, Scientific Integrity, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Whistleblowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on As Whistleblower Joel Clement Calls on Interior Secretary Zinke to Resign, Even Stronger Steps for Government Accountability are Needed