Trump dismisses climate report

Federally mandated report warns of economic, agricultural damage already noticed by Illinois farmers

 Commenting on dire economic and agricultural forecasts from his own administration’s report on climate change, President Trump said, “I don’t believe it.” (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Commenting on dire economic and agricultural forecasts from his own administration’s report on climate change, President Trump said, “I don’t believe it.” (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

If the Trump administration was trying to bury a new federally mandated report on climate change by releasing it over the long Thanksgiving weekend, it didn’t work.

Over what’s traditionally considered a long, slow weekend for news, major media outlets spent their time poring over the findings of the “Fourth National Climate Assessment,” with what’s known as “Volume II” released Friday focusing on “Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States.”

The warnings the report issued were dire. According to the report, the average temperature in the continental 48 United States has risen 1.8 degrees since 1900, with two-thirds of that coming just in the last few decades. That accelerated pace was expected to continue, with average temperatures rising 3 to 12 degrees over the remainder of this century depending on the effectiveness of actions taken.

Focusing on the economy, the report declared: “Regional economies and industries that depend on natural resources and favorable climate conditions, such as agriculture, tourism, and fisheries, are vulnerable to the growing impacts of climate change.” That’s a large part of the Illinois economy, and the report didn’t minimize the specific risks to farmers.

“Increases in temperatures during the growing season in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture,” the report stated.

On Monday, CBS News issued a follow-up report focusing on Versailles soybean farmer Jim Benham, who like many others has noticed that — with the amount of evaporated water in the atmosphere rising globally — the number of so-called 100-year storms are increasing as well.

“When we have a rain event, we're not getting an inch — we're getting two and three and four inches,” Benham said. “It doesn't take a scientist to know you have a problem. It's what I'm experiencing.”

Benham blamed heavy rains for ruining 20 acres of his soybean crop this year, saying, “It's like chewing gum, they're just too wet.”

According to Andrew Light, one of the editors of the report: “The part of the country that's going to get worse fastest is actually the Midwest, which is the breadbasket of America.”

The impact on Illinois didn’t escape U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. “Report after report confirms what we suspected about climate change,” he tweeted. “How long will the president deny the science behind it?”

Perhaps anticipating the release of the report last week, President Trump tweeted himself on the day before Thanksgiving’s record cold temperatures in the Northeast: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

On Monday, the president tried to brush off the report, saying, “I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,” but then adding when asked about the dire economic predictions: “I don’t believe it. No, no I don’t believe it.”

The report blamed coal plants globally for much of the problem, while Trump in a recent Illinois appearance boasted of “putting our coal miners back to work” and advocated “beautiful, clean coal.”

Similarly, Gov. Bruce Rauner has backed easing regulations on coal-fired energy plants, but was recently rebuffed by his own Illinois Pollution Control Board.

The report warned that corn and soybeans — the state’s top cash crops — are especially susceptible to increases in rain and temperature expected from climate change.

“Projections of mid-century yields of commodity crops show declines of 5 percent to over 25 percent below extrapolated trends broadly across the region for corn and more than 25 percent for soybeans in the southern half of the region, with possible increases in yield in the northern half of the region,” the report stated in its chapter on the Midwest. “Increases in growing-season temperature in the Midwest are projected to be the largest contributing factor to declines in the productivity of U.S. agriculture.”

The Associated Press quoted University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign climate scientist Donald Wuebbles as saying, “We're going to continue to see severe weather events get stronger and more intense.”

The report was originally slated to be released in December, but was moved up to be released on so-called Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving.

Ted Cox