It’s no secret that the Trump administration is full of climate deniers. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, however, has taken this denial to a new level by including language that both dismisses the climate crisis and even tries to paint it as positive in the final environmental impact statement to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the fossil fuel industry.
The bureau released the document a couple of weeks ago, and environmental attorneys and nonprofits have been combing through the thousands of pages worth of information in the environmental analysis. They want to use all legal action available to stop any extraction in this pristine Alaskan landscape, and that requires close reading. This week, while going through the portion of the document that includes public comments and the U.S. agency’s response, attorneys with the Sierra Club stumbled upon this tidbit:
“The BLM does not agree that the proposed development is inconsistent with maintaining a livable planet (i.e., there is not a climate crisis). The planet was much warmer within the past 1,000 years, prior to the Little Ice Age, based on extensive archaeological evidence (such as farming in Greenland and vineyards in England). This warmth did not make the planet unlivable; rather, it was a time when societies prospered.”
This text was included five times in this section of the final environmental impact statement in response to public comments legal group Trustees for Alaska submitted. All the All group’s comments revolved around the role drilling in the Alaskan refuge could have in making climate change worse.
This is the first time that the Sierra Club and its partners have identified the use of such blatant climate-denying language in an official U.S. federal environmental analysis. Government officials, including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and even Donald Trump, have said such things before, but an environmental impact statement is more than words. It’s the legal support for a project.
“The entire document is one more instance of this administration cutting corners, suppressing science, downplaying the very real impacts of their actions, and they have been so sloppy about it,” Lena Moffit, a senior director at the Sierra Club, told Gizmodo.
The language around climate put forth in the environmental impact statement is not based in fact, and scientists who spoke with Gizmodo called bullshit. Sure, the world has seen natural climate variability, including some warming before the Little Ice Age, but these events can’t be directly compared. The rate and magnitude of the climate change we’re seeing now dwarf what the world has seen in the past. Events such as the Little Ice Age or Medieval Warm Period saw regional — not global — warming, according to a study out earlier this year. And the causes of the current global warming are vastly different.
So prospering societies? Not exactly. There’s evidence that shows Vikings may have benefited from warming during the Medieval Warm Period — an era that stretched from roughly 950 to 1250 — because more areas opened for them to explore, but other societies the Vikings conquered didn’t exactly benefit. At the same time, Peteet said parts of North America (including modern-day New York) were dealing with a major drought. The Native Americans who lived here then would likely disagree that they prospered during a time when their water supplies dwindled and wildfires were burning.
“It’s not the same kind of warming because we’re forcing it with higher CO2 and methane at a very rapid rate,” Dorothy Peteet, a paleoclimate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told Gizmodo. “Those were gradual changes, and in some areas, it was good for the environment, for animals, and plants. In other areas, it was not. There were droughts, major droughts.”
Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State, told Gizmodo the inspector general should immediately investigate the Bureau of Land Management for this language.
“Political appointees running the Bureau of Land Management are engaged in deliberate deception to the public, intentionally misrepresenting the state of scientific knowledge,” Mann wrote in an email to Gizmodo. “If they were engaged in an honest assessment of the science, they would, of course, acknowledge what the peer-reviewed scientific literature overwhelmingly indicates, that current global warmth is unprecedented for at least the past 2,000 years—which is as far back as scientists can currently estimate — and potentially much longer.”
This flippant climate denial is a new low for the Trump administration. The American president is so desperate to extract every last bit of fossil fuels left within U.S. soil that he’s willing to sacrifice the beauty of this Arctic landscape, the wildlife, and the health of the Gwich’in First Nation people who depend on the animals and land for sustenance and culture.
In order to do that, the U.S. government has continued its parade of lies because there’s no other way to continue pushing its extractive agenda. In a world where climate change is increasingly becoming The Issue, all the administration can do is pretend the problem doesn’t exist.