Cognitive dissonance is what happens when we get conflicting messages on the same topic. The EPA has just released a 150-page guide that offers strategies for cleaning up debris left behind by natural disasters. But there is more here than the title of the document — Planning For Natural Disaster Debris — might suggest. What the EPA is really doing is warning communities across the United States that the threat of natural disasters has increased because of climate change since the last time such a report was issued in 2008.
The Washington Post points out, “In the western United States…regional temperatures have increased by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and snowmelt is occurring a month earlier in areas, extending the fire season by three months and quintupling the number of large fires. Another scientific paper, co-authored by EPA researchers, found that unless the United States slashes carbon emissions, climate change will probably cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually by 2100.”
The cognitive dissonance comes from the pronouncement of the head of the EPA, former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, who has gone on record as saying “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.” Asked about climate change during his confirmation hearing, Wheeler told the Senate, “I would not call it the greatest crisis, no, sir,” he replied. “I would call it a huge issue that needs to be addressed globally.” Wheeler did not explain exactly how it would be addressed globally if the United States refuses to be part of the conversation.
“This EPA guidance is clearly telling the public you need to start dealing now with disasters that are being made worse by climate change and will be made even worse due to climate change,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at the group Public Citizen. “It’s pretty troubling to me to see the head of EPA saying the exact opposite thing.”
“The science has really developed in the last decade, in particular, around the influence of global warming on extreme events,” Noah Diffenbaugh, a professor and senior fellow at Stanford University, tells the Post. He adds that researchers are constantly gathering more data and studying more weather events, so that the observational record has grown over time. Computing power and modeling capabilities have improved.
There has been an “explosion of research” on the topic, resulting in a growing body of research showing human-caused climate change is contributing to record heat, more intense storms, and more severe flooding, he says. “It’s very clear from multiple lines of evidence that we are already being impacted by the global warming that’s already happened.”
In one section, the new report says, “According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which is a detailed report on climate change impacts on the U.S., climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of some natural disasters. The amount of debris generated by natural disasters, and the costs to manage it, will likely increase as a result.”
The way the report is couched in terms of cleaning up debris may have kept it below Wheeler’s radar. Despite the absurd positions on climate change espoused by the Tramp maladministration, some of the staff at EPA are clearly trying to carry on the actual mission of the agency, rather than spread lies and disinformation at the behest of the putative president. Let’s hope they are not punished for having the gumption to oppose their political leaders and tell the truth to the American people.