Trump says 2017 was the worst. So do climate scientists

Source: Zack Colman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, June 8, 2018

President Trump echoed top climate scientists yesterday by pointing out that extreme weather events were responsible for more damage than ever before.

NOAA said 2017 was the most expensive year on record, causing $306 billion in damage. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and Western wildfires inflicted massive loss of life and caused untold air and water pollution from which communities — especially in Puerto Rico — are still recovering.

“We had a season last year like no other, in terms of the power, the level, the hurricanes, the fires along the West Coast,” Trump said yesterday at headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The admission doesn’t mean Trump has suddenly begun accepting climate science, which he has disregarded as a “hoax.”

“Everything is sort of more extreme than anybody’s ever faced, and this is all something he does to burnish his administration’s accomplishments,” said Andrew Dessler, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University.

Trump’s focus on a narrow period of time — last year — resembles efforts by climate skeptics to cast doubt on mainstream science, said one expert. Many of those critics cherry-pick data points to disprove a broader truth.

Trump’s comments mean little without the broader context and longer timeline, said Robert Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University.

“Climate is changing in a way that is probably making hurricanes more intense, that is making rainfall more intense, that is increasing the risk of wildfire,” Kopp said. “You don’t need to recognize those trends to recognize last year was a bad year.”

NOAA continues to publish climate research documenting those trends. A study released yesterday in Nature said hurricanes have moved more slowly across water and land during the past 70 years, dropping more rainfall over longer periods of time (see related story).

The study used Harvey, which dropped a record 51.89 inches of rain over a six-day period last August, as an example. A separate analysis from scientists with World Weather Attribution found that human-caused climate change made the record rainfall three times more likely and enhanced Harvey’s intensity by 15 percent.

Trump did not mention climate change in his FEMA comments. So while parts of his administration churn out new information demonstrating the scope of the problems posed by warming, it doesn’t mean the White House is listening.

“Science doesn’t become policy by itself,” Dessler said. “You have to have politicians that are willing to look at this and say we should do something about it. Otherwise, it just sits on a shelf.”