On Nov. 3, 13 federal agencies jointly released an updated report that determined that global warming was continuing to contribute to sea-level rise, increased severe storms, colder winters, warmer summers, and drought. The cause, it said, was, unsurprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity. The White House apparently approved the report, despite President Trump’s continued debunking of climate change, and actions by his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, that question whether any changes in the climate are attributable to human conduct.
Last June, Mr. Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Then last month, Mr. Pruitt removed scientists who receive EPA funding from participating on its scientific advisory boards, replacing them with representatives from the chemical, fossil fuel, and utility industries. This announcement came after he prohibited EPA scientists from speaking about climate change at a Rhode Island conference sponsored by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.
Meantime, scientists at the National Geological Survey concluded in their 2015 “Sea-Level Rise Modeling Handbook” that “global sea level is rising and may accelerate with continued fossil fuel consumption from industrial and population growth. … One of the more direct and scientifically accepted effects of modern-day climate change is that of rising sea levels associated with a warming climate and melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets.”
Meteorologists now place the current hurricane season, with its devastating storms in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Leeward Islands, in the top 10 most active on record. We can likely expect more weather disasters in the future. For the Island, this means that we may well see rapid sea-level rise and a dangerous loss of land on the perimeter. Continued development, land erosion, increased macadam roads, sinking coastal areas, and stronger storm surges will all amplify these negative effects.
The Island, like the rest of the United States, needs the federal government to take the lead on ameliorating these effects. It is, after all, a national problem.
So just how did that climate report of the 13 federal agencies sneak by the White House without amendment? According to a report in the New York Times, Gary D. Cohn, President Trump’s head of the National Economic Council, had the last word on approving the document. Apparently, as someone who subscribes to the idea of climate change, Cohn did just that while Mr. Trump, who was traveling in Asia, was not informed of its existence.
Myron Ebell, whom Mr. Trump named last December to head the transition at the EPA, denounced the report. He claimed it was the result of career civil servants, held over from the prior administration, and the White House needs to supervise them by … doing what? Presumably, by forcing them to toe the party line, that climate change, even if it does exist, is a natural phenomenon beyond human control, especially by reducing greenhouse emissions and other toxic pollutants. Or forcing them out of government.
The report will not persuade Mr. Trump or Mr. Pruitt to change their minds. And yet the evidence of climate change’s ruinous effects is irrefutable. Three years ago, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission released striking images of the future of sea level rise in Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. The first three towns are most at risk, potentially facing unacceptable inundations of water by 2050 unless ameliorative actions are taken.
Citizens now must look to their states to fight the battle against climate change and sea-level rise. Gov. Charlie Baker last year signed an executive order that places the commonwealth in the forefront of the battle to mitigate the impact of climate change. Vineyard towns and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission are committed to make a difference. And yet, even with the release of the recent federal report highlighting the dangers of climate change, one thing we cannot count on is the United States government.
Jack Fruchtman, an Aquinnah seasonal resident, teaches constitutional law and politics at Maryland’s Towson University.