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Woods Hole Scientist: Trump's EPA Pick Wrong About Human Impact On Climate Change04:52

This article is more than 3 years old.

As warnings from climate change scientists grow more dire, it's unclear how President-elect Donald Trump's administration will address the issue.

Scientists say 2016 was the hottest year on record. That's been the case for the last three years, with each record breaking the last.

President-elect Trump has previously called climate change a hoax. But his EPA pick Scott Pruitt said otherwise during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Philip Duffy, president and executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center, joined Morning Edition to discuss these developments.

Interview Transcript

You saw the latest report from NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and NASA scientists, saying we’ve now had three years of consecutive record-breaking heat. Help us understand what that means for those of us living in New England.

Well what the record means is it’s just reminding us that climate change continues unabated. As you said, it was the third record in a row, and actually 2016 was a record by a record amount. And again, you shouldn’t attach too much significance to the temperature in any one year, but just again a reminder that climate change marches on.

In terms of what that means to us in New England, some of the impacts are already manifest in terms of impacts on fisheries. A lot of the fish species have moved north including lobsters. We’re starting to see sea level rising and we expect to see more.

We heard Donald Trump’s EPA pick [Scott Pruitt] said he believes in climate change but didn’t exactly promise to tackle the issue. How optimistic are you about this incoming administration in regards to climate change?

Well his statement was not, I think, accurate and it was very waffly and sounded to me like an attempt to sound conciliatory. And, specifically, he said essentially that the degree of human influence on climate should continue to be debated, and that sounds to me like an excuse for inaction. The science is a hundred percent clear about that and your listeners probably know there’s a body called Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which involves thousands of scientists. And their latest report which came out in 2013 said that all of the recent global temperature increases, as near as we can tell, are attributable to human activities.

We hear a lot of warnings. We heard these warnings. But what can we actually do? And maybe more importantly, are some of the effects of climate change reversible at this point?

Well, some of them are preventable. They’re preventable by strong climate policy. In terms of reversing climate change, the only way to do that is through removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And one of the sad milestones that we passed a while ago, is we passed the point where we can avoid the worst impacts only by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We now actually need to remove quite a bit of CO2. Well that, in my opinion, is the great unsolved technological challenge. The only way we know how to do that now is through what I call climate smart land management, meaning things like reforestation, things like agricultural techniques which can store more carbon and soil. And those measures, if implemented very widely, can actually remove a lot of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but possibly not enough. And it’s also very challenging to do that on a policy basis, because there’s other competing uses for land, essentially.

If you could convince the incoming EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, assuming he’s confirmed by the Senate, and you could convince the Trump administration to take one action to combat climate change, what would it be?

It would be essentially putting a price on carbon that reflects the true cost of emitting carbon into the atmosphere, right? In other words, a carbon tax — a revenue neutral carbon tax. One of the market failures of climate change is that it costs nothing to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and yet, in fact doing that imposes a lot of costs because of the damages from climate change. So if you could fix that market failure, all kinds of things would fall into line.

This article was originally published on January 19, 2017.

This segment aired on January 19, 2017.


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