Shared from the 3/1/2019 The Miami Herald eEdition

Trump is increasingly alone on one side of the climate-science divide


New efforts by President Donald Trump and his staff to question or undermine the established science of climate change have created a widening rift between the White House on one side, and scientific facts, government agencies, and some leading figures in the president’s own party on the other.

The president’s senior advisers are exploring the idea of creating a panel aimed at questioning the National Climate Assessment. According to a White House memo, the group would include William Hap-per, aPrinceton physicist who has asserted that carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that scientists say is trapping heat and warming the planet — is beneficial to humanity.

The climate assessment, a sweeping report issued by the White House itself in November, concluded decisively that the burning of fossil fuels was warming the atmosphere, leading to araft of harmful effects across the United States and the world.

And Trump announced last week on Twitter that he would nominate Kelly Knight Craft to be his ambassador to the United Nations. Craft said in a 2017 television interview that, on the issue of climate change, she believes there are “scientists on both sides that are accurate.”

Douglas Brinkley, a historian who has written books on five former U.S. presidents, said: “There is no precedent for something like this. Other presidents have attacked policy initiatives but not science.”

At the same time, more senior Republicans, including those in Congress, are moving in the opposite direction, acknowledging the established science and publicly calling to reduce fossil-fuel pollution.

To be sure, some Republicans continue to question, or, more commonly, to remain silent on the issue of human-caused climate change.

But in February, three of the top-ranking Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — Greg Walden of Oregon, Fred Upton of Michigan, and John Shimkus of Illinois — published an op-ed that appeared on the website Real Clear Policy and said “climate change is real” and called for innovations to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Republican pollsters and staff members said the White House’s efforts to attack the science —that fossil-fuel pollution traps heat, warms the planet, and contributes to more severe droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes — could backfire and put Trump fundamentally at odds with his own party.

“A lot of thoughtful Republicans have accepted the reality of climate change and are wrestling with questions of policy,” Whit Ayres, a prominent Republican pollster, said.

Ayres noted that many Republicans had concerns about climate change policies like taxing or regulating coal and oil pollution. But he said that questioning the foundational science of climate change could become a political liability.

A White House spokeswoman declined to speak on the record for this article.

The moves by the White House come as public opinion in the United States and around the world appears to be falling more in line with the science.

The Trump administration has been criticized by other countries for Trump’s plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and for his policy moves to weaken Environmental Protection Agency rules.

But the new plans to create the panel and the expected nomination of Craft will sharply deepen that divide, said Sherri Goodman, who served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the Clinton administration.

“It creates a huge divide with our European and Asian allies, and it allows China to claim the mantle of climate leadership,” she said. “China shows up at climate conferences when the U.S. doesn’t and they offer to engage on the science.”

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