Playing politics with critical environmental data

A new report from the Government Accountability Office found the Trump administration undervalued the cost of climate change.

The Trump administration estimated the “social cost of carbon” to be seven times lower than the Obama administration’s estimates – a rock-bottom evaluation that then enabled them to justify the costs of repealing or weakening regulations that would have helped mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

The “social cost of carbon” is the dollar value of the damages incurred from emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere costs the economy, from damages due to extreme weather events and sea-level rise, to the health impacts of extreme heat, to food insecurity resulting from prolonged drought, among so many other climate-related hazards.

The Obama administration estimated in 2016 that the social cost of carbon would be about $50 a ton by 2020. The Trump administration estimated the cost of climate damages between $1 and $7 per ton of carbon.

“It was entirely a political act. I don’t think anyone pretended that those moves were justified.”

  • Michael Greenstone, University of Chicago economist

By only factoring in damages that would occur within the United States rather than around the globe and assuming we would not spend much now to prevent harm from climate change in the future, the Trump administration was able to cook the books on climate change – and then use those undervaluations to block the implementation of critical environmental protections.

SEEC Members are working to ensure that no one can play politics with this kind of data. Rep. Sean Casten introduced the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which would force the disclosure of information regarding climate change-related risks and establish standards regarding the social cost of carbon.