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Are the findings of the leaked climate change report surprising?

A climate change report drafted by 13 government agencies was leaked amidst fears it would be suppressed by the Trump Administration.
Factory emissions
A report concluded that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. Photo: Pixabay

President Donald Trump has rejected evidence concerning climate change and human activity’s influence on it, but a report was leaked to the New York Times on Tuesday that concluded overwhelmingly that Americans are already experiencing climate change and that yes, “many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities... are primarily responsible.”

Andrew Jorgenson is a professor at Boston College and an environmental sociologist, focusing on studying the human dimensions of environmental changes. He spoke with Metro about his thoughts on the leaked report.

The two main takeaways from this report seem to be that it “directly contradicts” Trump administration claims that “the human contribution to climate change is uncertain,” and that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change now. Were these conclusions surprising to you?
Oh no, absolutely not. It’s been well established within the broader scientific community for some time, with a great deal of consensus and scientific certainty, that the climate change the world is experiencing now is largely human caused. Primarily, that the burning of fossil fuels — which leads to greenhouse gas emissions — result from human activity.

Have your colleagues discussed this leaked report today?
For sure, it’s just the most recent in an ongoing, never-ending wave of reports like this that come out. It might be a [U.S. Global Change Research Program] report, or U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which was a part of this report. The evidence is so abundant, it’s ridiculous that we're still having to have this incredibly important conversation. We should have a long time ago moved beyond this to focus on saying, “Well, the science is quite clear, what are we going to do about it?”

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In an administration that has negated these findings, is it now the responsibility of scientists to speak out about climate change?
This is tricky because most scientists are trained to be objective researchers, to let the research speak for itself. The idea being we are not policy makers, but those trained in policy would use our objective, peer-reviewed research to make decisions.

Now, with where things are going in the U.S. with the current presidential administration and what they’ve done with climate change, you’re starting to see more of a growing movement of scientists that work in the public or private sector starting to think that they need to speak out.

For me, I don’t have that kind of worry because I’m not employed by a federal agency. Those employed by federal agencies, what they’re doing is incredibly brave. They're risking their jobs to do this, but they’re doing it because they’re so deeply concerned by how undemocratic things are currently.

If the scientific certainty of human-caused climate change is only increasing, yet the administration still refuses to accept it, what is the next step?
One of the important things we need to keep in mind is that there are different levels of governance in the U.S. So even if the Trump administration might be making, frankly, decision that are entirely inconsistent with science, with the fundamental principles of sustainability, and are undemocratic, if you look around the country, you see at the state, city or county level, elected officials saying that they take this issue seriously. I’m encouraged by this, my colleagues across scientific disciplines and throughout the world are encouraged by this. 

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