A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made a stunning admission — the Trump administration believes climate change is a serious threat.

Bizarrely, however, the admission also comes with a defiant refusal to take any meaningful action on carbon emissions.

The NHTSA’s environmental impact statement on the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of fuel economy standards imposed by the Obama administration admits that by 2100, the global temperature will rise by approximately seven degrees Celsius. The statement describes in painful detail what such a temperature increase would look like:

“Impacts on human health could include increases in mortality and morbidity due to excessive heat and other extreme weather events, increases in respiratory conditions due to poor air quality and aeroallergens, increases in water and food-borne diseases, increases in mental health issues, and changes in the seasonal patterns and range of vector-borne diseases,” page S-21 of the statement reads. “The most disadvantaged groups such as children, the elderly, the sick, and low-income populations are especially vulnerable.”

“Impacts on human security could include increased threats in response to adversely affected livelihoods, compromised cultures, increased or restricted migration, increased risk of armed conflicts, reduction in adequate essential services such as water and energy, and increased geopolitical rivalry,” the report continued.

But in spite of the chaotic depiction of how climate change would negatively impact humanity, the report doubles down on the Trump administration’s rollback of fuel economy standards, stating that the effect the rollback would have on global climate trends would be “minimal” in comparison.

This argument appears to be contradictory to findings published in the NHTSA report. A pie graph on page S-13 of the report shows a breakdown of various contributors to greenhouse gases, with road traffic contributing to roughly one-third of U.S. carbon emissions, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

climate change
NHTSA graph showing transportation’s contribution to U.S. carbon emissions

On page S-7 of the statement, the NHTSA admits that the U.S. transportation sector is “a major source of emissions of certain criteria pollutants or their chemical precursors,” with on-road mobile sources emitting nearly 18 million tons of carbon monoxide each year, or 30 percent of total U.S. emissions, and that 93 percent of those emissions come from passenger cars and light trucks — the kinds of vehicles directly impacted by the Trump administration’s rollback of fuel economy standards.

But the statement nonetheless concludes that the previous standards imposed on those vehicles are but a drop in the bucket, and that the planet will continue to warm dramatically regardless of fuel economy standards.

Michael McCracken, a former senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program, told The Washington Post that the statement was a stunning admission from the Trump administration on the topic of climate change.

“The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society,” McCracken told the Post. “And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it.”

Despite the nihilistic view of the NHTSA statement, California could be a source of hope for those looking for climate change solutions. Earlier this year, the state made headlines for meeting its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 1990 levels two years ahead of schedule. Much of this progress was made from phasing out use of fossil fuel-powered electricity in favor of renewable sources, like solar and wind energy. However, the state admits that reducing transportation admissions remains its chief challenge.

The Trump administration’s stunning reveal of its belief in man-made climate change and its devastating impacts has not, as of this writing, prompted President Trump to re-join the Paris Climate Accords. The U.S. remains the only country in the world that has not signed on, despite being the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide behind China.


Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.

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