Skip to main content

Experts aren’t buying the White House’s spin on an authoritative climate report

Experts aren’t buying the White House’s spin on an authoritative climate report


‘Your belief or lack thereof does not affect its reality’

Share this story

Rapidly-Spreading Wildfire In California’s Butte County Prompts Evacuations
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

After attempting to bury a climate change report during a long holiday weekend, the White House has pivoted to calling it “not based in facts.” Unfortunately for the White House, the report is filled with years’ worth of facts gathered by scientists, which paint a clear and alarming picture: climate change is already affecting Americans, and it’s going to get worse.

The report came after the Camp Fire, the worst wildfire in California’s history, which was preceded by what was previously the worst wildfire in California’s history. The Camp Fire killed at least 85 people and displaced roughly 50,000, the Los Angeles Times reports. The fires forced evacuees out of their homes, away from their jobs, and into hotels, shelters, and tents in a Walmart parking lot. Now, rains are threatening to pour onto the scorched ground which could easily turn into mudslides like the ones that killed at least 15 people in Santa Barbara last year.

“You harm the health, the welfare, the economy, and the future of hundreds of millions of people.”

Worsening wildfires, more intense droughts, downpours, and floods are all described in the latest National Climate Assessment. The congressionally mandated report is the work of 13 federal agencies and more than 300 scientists, and it spells out how climate change is hurting people already. President Donald Trump’s reaction to the findings? “One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” Trump told The Washington Post.

It’s a reaction that climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech and an author on the National Climate Assessment, hears a lot. “I have people telling me every day almost that they don’t believe in climate change,” she tells The Verge.

The White House’s response frames the heavily researched, meticulously referenced National Climate Assessment as something one could choose to disbelieve, rather than the experts’ best understanding of reality. “And of course the reality is you can certainly choose your own reaction to it. But your perspective, your reaction, your belief or lack thereof does not affect its reality,” Hayhoe says. If you’re the president and you’re making decisions that aren’t based on reality, she says, “you harm the health, the welfare, the economy, and the future of hundreds of millions of people.” Just ask the newly minted Californian climate refugees.

“She is breathing molecules of the people who died because the smoke has reached Washington.”

Even as 50,000 people were displaced by wildfires that neatly matched climate scientists’ predictions from decades ago, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on Trump’s disbelief during a press conference on Tuesday. Her false evaluation — that the National Climate Assessment is “not based in facts” and “not data driven” — is bad news for Americans who are already facing the effects of climate change.

The timing of these claims is particularly appalling after the recent devastation in California. “She is breathing molecules of the people who died because the smoke has reached Washington,” says Gary Yohe, a professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University who reviewed the National Climate Assessment before it was published.

In fact, data and facts inform the models that Sanders dismissed at the briefing as “the most extreme model scenario which contradicts long established trends.” That’s just not true, Hayhoe points out on Twitter.

The report assesses multiple paths to possible futures: paths where we burn a lot of fossil fuels or a little. That’s the point, Yohe says. “To show that the mitigation path that you choose matters,” he says. “But the high path isn’t an extreme, and the low path isn’t extreme either.”

Don Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois, agrees that looking at a range of futures is a key element of the report. It gives us an idea of what we can prevent by reducing emissions, and what we’ll have to adapt to. “It tells you a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of following one pathway or another,” he says. So, for the White House, he says, “It’s very important that they represent the science properly in their discussions of it, rather than these simplistic statements that are not based on fact at all.”   

Sanders does say something that’s almost true, according to Robert Kopp, director of the Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Rutgers University and an author on the first volume of the latest National Climate Assessment. “She’s correct in that modeling the climate is an extremely complicated science, and it’s not exact,” he says. But it’s the details that are complex, he says, not the big picture. “The fact that when you put greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, you’re going to warm the planet, that’s not complex,” he says. “It’s been known since the 19th century.”

“It’s very important that they represent the science properly.”

Those details are getting clearer, too, Hayhoe says. “We’re starting to be able to put numbers on the extent to which human-induced changes exacerbated natural disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires, instead of the standard mantra,” she says. (The standard mantra is some permutation of “We cannot attribute any single event to the effects of climate change.”) The report cites findings that Hurricane Harvey, for example, which dropped more than five feet of rain in Houston and killed at least 68 people, was three times more likely because of human-driven climate change.

But the myth that climate science is up for debate isn’t the biggest or most dangerous falsehood that people buy into, Hayhoe says. “It’s the myth that it doesn’t matter to me.” That’s the myth that Sanders perpetuates when she separates climate change from impacts, as she did in Tuesday’s briefing. “Our focus is on making sure we have the safest, cleanest air and water, and the president is going to do exactly that,” Sanders said. (The Trump administration, in fact, has moved to scrap Obama-era clean water and air regulations.)

Fossil fuel emissions and climate change are already affecting our water and air. The report puts it bluntly: “Water security in the United States is increasingly in jeopardy.” There are large-scale impacts, like more severe droughts and bigger downpours. But there are also local impacts on water quality, like the growing scourge of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, which thrive in warmer waters tainted by nutrient-rich runoff. Due to a harmful algal bloom in 2014, 500,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, were told to not drink from their taps, the report says.

“This is a legacy that we’re leaving to them that we ought to be very concerned about.”

As for the air we breathe, climate change is lengthening the fire seasons and making massive fires more frequent, the report says. And in addition to the people they kill, homes they destroy, and lives they uproot, wildfires in the West are also a major source of the microscopic droplets and tiny solid particles known as particulate matter. Particulate matter is bad for air quality and bad for health. “So ignoring climate change doesn’t really contribute to other aspects of clean air and clean water,” Kopp says.

The point of the report is to help inform decision-makers about how to prevent emissions from worsening the climate changes of the future and how to prepare for what we can no longer avoid. That’s why more than 300 scientists devoted their time and effort to write it. And when representatives of the White House sow doubt about it, experts say they’re doing a disservice to the American people. “Just making up falsehoods about the National Climate Assessments has the potential to really deprive the states and communities that are least resourced of a trustworthy source of information,” Kopp says.

That’s a problem for our present and our future. “I don’t know how anyone could look at this and not be concerned about what it means not only to themselves — perhaps they want to ignore that,” Wuebbles says, “but they shouldn’t be ignoring what it means for our children and our grandchildren. This is a legacy that we’re leaving to them that we ought to be very concerned about.”

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 39 minutes ago 10 minutes in the clouds

Richard Lawler39 minutes ago
Green light.

This week Friday brings the debut of Apple’s other new hardware. We’ve reviewed both the new AirPods Pro and this chonky Apple Watch Ultra, and now you’ll decide if you’re picking them up, or not.

Otherwise, we’re preparing for Netflix’s Tudum event this weekend and slapping Dynamic Island onto Android phones.

The Apple Watch Ultra on a woman’s wrist
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
External Link
Jess WeatherbedAn hour ago
Japan will fully reopen to tourists in October following two and a half years of travel restrictions.

Good news for folks who have been waiting to book their dream Tokyo vacation: Japan will finally relax Covid border control measures for visa-free travel and individual travelers on October 11th.

Tourists will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, but can take advantage of the weak yen and a ‘national travel discount’ launching on the same date. Sugoi!

External Link
Thomas RickerTwo hours ago
Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

Still, it is a Sony, and

External Link
Corin FaifeTwo hours ago
If God sees everything, so do these apps.

Some Churches are asking congregants to install so-called “accountability apps” to prevent sinful behavior. A Wired investigation found that they monitor almost everything a user does on their phone, including taking regular screenshots and flagging LGBT search terms.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
External Link
James Vincent8:41 AM UTC
Shutterstock punts on AI-generated content.

Earlier this week, Getty Images banned the sale of AI-generated content, citing legal concerns about copyright. Now, its biggest rival, Shutterstock, has responded by doing ... absolutely nothing. In a blog post, Shutterstock’s CEO Paul Hennessy says there are “open questions on the copyright, licensing, rights, and ownership of synthetic content and AI-generated art,” but doesn’t announce any policy changes. So, you can keep on selling AI art on Shutterstock, I guess.

Thomas Ricker6:58 AM UTC
This custom Super73 makes me want to tongue-kiss an eagle.

Super73’s tribute to mountain-biking pioneer Tom Ritchey has my inner American engorged with flag-waving desire. The “ZX Team” edition features a red, white, and blue colorway with custom components fitted throughout. Modern MTBers might scoff at the idea of doing any serious trail riding on a heavy Super73 e-bike, which is fine: this one-off is not for sale. 

You can, however, buy the Super73 ZX it’s based on (read my review here), which proved to be a very capable all-terrain vehicle on asphalt, dirt, gravel, and amber fields of grain.

Richard Lawler12:25 AM UTC
The sincerest form of flattery.

I had little interest in Apple’s Dynamic Island, but once a developer built their spin on the idea for Android, I had to give it a try.

Surprisingly, I’ve found I actually like it, and while dynamicSpot isn’t as well-integrated as Apple’s version, it makes up for it with customization. Nilay’s iPhone 14 Pro review asked Apple to reverse the long-press to expand vs. tap to enter an app setup. In dynamicSpot, you can do that with a toggle (if you pay $5).

DynamicSpot app on Android shown expanding music player, in the style of Apple’s Dynamic Island in iOS 16.
DynamicSpot in action on a Google Pixel 6
Image: Richard Lawler
Richard LawlerSep 22
TikTok politics.

Ahead of the midterm elections, TikTok made big changes to its rules for politicians and political fundraising on the platform, as Makena Kelly explains... on TikTok.

External Link
Richard LawlerSep 22
The Twitter employee who testified about Trump and the January 6th attack has come forward.

This summer, a former Twitter employee who worked on platform and content moderation policies testified anonymously before the congressional committee investigating the violence at the US Capitol on January 6th.

While she remains under NDA and much of her testimony is still sealed,  Anika Collier Navaroli has identified herself, explaining a little about why she’s telling Congress her story of what happened inside Twitter — both before the attack, and after, when it banned Donald Trump.

Richard LawlerSep 22
But how does it sound?

Our review of Apple’s new AirPods Pro can tell you everything about the second-generation buds. To find out how you’ll sound talking to other people through them, just listen to Verge senior video producer Becca Farsace.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 22
Our list of the best entertainment of 2022 keeps getting bigger.

We just added some notable entries to our running list highlighting the best games, movies, and TV shows of the year, including Return to Monkey Island, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Sorry in advance for your free time.

The best entertainment of 2022

Everything to play and watch this year

Andrew WebsterSep 22

The best instant cameras you can buy right now

We found the best cameras for your budget and needs

Sheena VasaniSep 22
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 22
The Bootleg Ratio.

Policy Editor Russell Brandom digs into a phenomenon we’ve all seen on social media before:

I call it the Bootleg Ratio: the delicate balance between A) content created by users specifically for the platform and B) semi-anonymous clout-chasing accounts drafting off the audience. Any platform will have both, but as B starts to overtake A, users will have less and less reason to visit and creators will have less and less reason to post.

And now it’s coming for TikTok.

Dan SeifertSep 22
Here’s a look at a few Pixel Watch watchfaces.

Google is ramping up the marketing machine ahead of next month’s Pixel 7 and Pixel Watch event and has released a short video (via 9to5Google) highlighting the design and showcasing some of the watchfaces it will have. Most of them are quite simple, with just the time being displayed.

These videos always look great from a marketing perspective, but I think they poorly reflect how I actually use a smartwatch. I want the computer on my wrist to show me useful information like weather, calendar appointments, timers, etc, which means it’s never as sparse or simple looking as it is in these ads.

External Link
Please stop trying to order the Hummer EV.

GMC is closing the order books for the Hummer EV truck and SUV after receiving 90,000 reservations for the controversial electric vehicle, according to the Detroit Free Press. It just can’t seem to keep up with demand, so the GM-owned company has decided to stop taking orders until production picks up. Maybe if the Hummer’s battery wasn’t the same weight as a whole-ass Honda Civic, it would be easier to manufacture, but I digress.

GMC is the latest automaker to run into the problem of EV demand far outstripping supply. Ford also is having difficulty making enough F-150 Lightnings and Mustang Mach-Es to fill all its orders. Waitlists for most available EVs are longer than my arm. Things are going to be tight until the auto industry is able to bring more battery factories and assembly plants online, and unfortunately that could take a while.

External Link
Alex CranzSep 22
The Verge is hiring!

The Verge is almost always hiring, and right now we’re looking for a big Verge fan with big journalism ambition to join us as a fellow for the next year. We’re also hiring a Space Reporter to join our Science team, a Designer to work with our Art team, and a Senior Editor focused on Search. Come apply to work with us!

Fellow, The Verge