Before President Donald Trump signed a sweeping executive order to roll back the Obama administration’s climate legacy on Tuesday, the White House held a press call featuring a senior administration official. The purpose was to brief reporters on what the order would say and the thinking behind it.
It ended up being more revealing than the White House may have intended.
As the transcript of the call shows, the official, who helped draft the order Trump signed, had no idea that human-caused climate change is already having — let alone may one day have — damaging consequences for the economy.
Here’s text from the actual, bang-your-head-against-the-wall briefing (emphasis added).
Q: What about all the scientists who are saying climate change is going to have adverse economic consequences — things like rising sea levels, more hazardous hurricanes — how do you address those economic arguments?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, you’ll have to talk to those scientists. Maybe I can talk to you afterward. I’m not familiar with what you’re talking about. But again, the President’s policy is very clear about addressing — making sure we’re addressing the economy, providing people with jobs, and we’re making sure that EPA is sticking to its core mission.
Q: Are you saying you’re not aware that scientists are concerned about rising sea levels or more violent storms might impact the economy…
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would want to see the research. Sure, that would be good. Show it to me.
To say the least, it’s absolutely astounding that the White House wasn’t aware of the research showing the damaging effects of climate change before it decided to roll back historic regulations. It’s also not quite believable.
Ample reports show that climate change itself threatens jobs and imperils economic productivity.
In fact, business leaders, including tech titans from Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies were some of the loudest voices pushing for a global climate agreement in Paris in 2015. Google, for example, announced in December 2016 that it will use 100 percent renewable power for all of its data centers and offices in 2017.
These companies and many others see climate change as increasingly threatening to their bottom line due to extreme weather events like heat waves and droughts, and sea level rise that imperils coastal megacities from New York to Miami to Dhaka.
A 2014 study by a bipartisan group of business executives and former political leaders, including President George W. Bush’s treasury secretary, Henry Paulson Jr., found that extreme heat and sea level rise will threaten human health and put up to $3.5 billion of U.S. property in jeopardy by 2030, with even more severe and expensive impacts to come after that.
The report compared climate change impacts to a predatory loan assigned to future generations. Paulson knows quite a bit about predatory loans, considering he was at the helm at the Treasury Department when the 2008 financial crisis unfolded.
Climate change is projected to put a major dent in U.S. economic output by the middle of this century, with even bigger losses projected throughout the developing world. For example, a 2015 Nature paper found that U.S. gross domestic product could drop 5 percent by 2050 without climate action.
By the end of the century, Even steeper declines — up to 36 percent of per capita GDP — could occur.
There’s much more evidence out there that needs to be brought to the attention of the Trump White House, from findings by the World Economic Forum to military leaders who worry about a proliferation of failed states as climate impacts worsen.
The bottom line is that waiting to tackle climate change is the most expensive option, and the one that could ultimately hurt, not help, job creation.
But the White House apparently didn’t know that until a reporter brought it up.