March 13, 2017
Scott Pruitt, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Dear Administrator Pruitt,
As scientists who study the Earth’s climate system, we are deeply troubled by your recent statement that there is “tremendous disagreement” about whether carbon dioxide from human activities is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
This statement is incorrect. In fact, we know with an exceptionally high degree of confidence that most of the climate warming over at least the last six decades has been caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities. Further, we know that if we continue to increase the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, the Earth will continue to heat up, with serious consequences for economies and ecosystems across the globe.
Scientists often disagree on the second- and third-level details of climate science and of new scientific findings, because we are trained to be skeptical and critical thinkers. Indeed, this is how science advances. However, focusing on disagreements over details, or among a few individuals on the margins of consensus, or on the uncertainties that are part of any accurate statement of scientific knowledge, misses the big picture: human beings are changing the Earth’s climate. This key conclusion follows from the basic laws of physics. Just as there is no escaping gravity when one steps off a cliff, there is no escaping the warming that follows when we add extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Human beings have increased carbon dioxide levels by more than 40%, and levels are rising more rapidly now than ever before, and the climate is warming in response. Our scientific expectations are confirmed by what the Earth itself is telling us.
The whole climate system is changing: glaciers are in retreat globally, arctic sea ice is shrinking in extent and volume, plant and animal ranges are moving, growing seasons are shifting, sea levels are rising, and the oceans are becoming more acidic. On these points there is no meaningful controversy among scientists.
Natural factors alone simply cannot explain the great diversity of changes we are seeing with greater and greater frequency throughout the Earth system. After decades of careful and critical study, scientists have found that the only explanation consistent with the data is that human beings are now, by a significant amount, exerting the largest influence on the climate system. No serious alternative hypothesis has been proposed that can account for the observed aforementioned changes.
We hope that as EPA administrator, you appreciate that just as science has diagnosed the cause of the changes in the Earth’s climate system, science can also provide the basis for solutions that mitigate the risks from climate change and at the same time provide the economic foundation for future American prosperity. Science gives us the principles for designing low-cost clean energy systems that won’t warm the planet. Science helps inform us how to better manage our crops for food and fiber production at lower environmental impact.
Science shows us clearly that we face grave risks if we fail to slow emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It is the role of citizens, policymakers, and political leaders to decide which paths are most in accord with societal values and economic priorities. But to be effective, it is critical that these decisions be based on our best unbiased and shared understanding of climate science.
Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry University of California, San Diego, CA
Steven Wofsy, Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor
Atmospheric and Environmental Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
And the following 28 climate scientists (in alphabetical order. Note: * indicates a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences).
David Battisti, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Tamaki Endowed Chair University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Marshall Burke, Assistant Professor of Earth System Science Stanford University, Stanford CA
Ken Caldeira, Senior Scientist, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA
Kim M. Cobb, Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
Andrew E. Dessler, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Noah S. Diffenbaugh, Professor of Earth System Science Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Chris Field, Director, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford, CA Howard Frumkin, Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle WA
John Harte, Professor, Energy and Resources, University of California, Berkeley, CA
Jessica Hellmann, Director, Institute on the Environment Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, Chief Scientist for Climate and Weather Services MDA Information Systems, Gaithersburg, MD
Michael C. MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs Climate Institute, Washington DC
Katharine Mach, Senior Research Scientist, Department of Earth System Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
James McWilliams, Louis B. Slichter Professor of Earth Sciences Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles
Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Jonathan T. Overpeck, Director, Institute of Environment, Regents Professor, Geosciences, Hydrology, and Atmospheric Sciences University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Pamela Matson, Professor and Dean, School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Maureen Raymo, Bruce C. Heezen Lamont Research Professor Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, NY
Joellen L. Russell, Associate Professor, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Scott R. Saleska, Associate Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Agnese Nelms Haury Faculty Fellow in Environment and Social Justice University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Noelle Eckley Selin, Associate Professor, Institute for Data, Systems and Society Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Drew Shindell, Nicholas Professor of Earth Science, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC
Abigail L.S. Swann, Assistant Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Department of Biology University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Kevin E. Trenberth, Distinguished senior scientist National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO
Diana H. Wall, University Distinguished Professor and Director School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
John Michael Wallace, Professor Emeritus, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Paul O. Wennberg, Director, The Linde Center for Global Environmental Science California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
Note: This letter represents the personal views of the signatories, not those of their institutions. Academic titles/affiliations are included here for identification purposes only.
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