The U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) revealed last week that the atmospheric impact of greenhouse gas emissions “rose more quickly last year than it has in nearly three decades,” but left an important part of the story untold in its media briefings surrounding the release, the New York Times reports.
“Unlike most news releases accompanying the index during the Obama administration, NOAA’s announcement this year does not directly link human activity to emissions,” the Times notes, in what amounts to “a notable shift from last year’s release”.
In 2014, NOAA warned that “the warming influence from human-emitted gases continues to increase”. In 2016, the agency stated that “human activity has increased the direct warming effect of carbon dioxide”.
This year, NOAA officials were left to declare that “the role of greenhouse gases on influencing global temperatures is well understood by scientists, but it’s a complicated topic that can be difficult to communicate.”
NOAA research chemist Stephen Montzka and Global Monitoring Director Jim Butler both said the full report pointed to human activity as the overwhelming source of GHG emissions. “If you start at 1750, most of the increase is due to human activity,” Butler said. “What this means is 40% of what has been emitted since 1750 has happened since 1990.”
Montzka attributed much of the GHG increase, the largest since 1988, to the effects of an unusually strong El Niño weather pattern that warmed the Pacific Ocean, causing less carbon dioxide to be dissolved in its waters. A previous GHG spike, between 1987 and 1988, was also attributable to El Niño.
The Times puts the NOAA release in the context of the Trump administration’s efforts to shut down Obama-era climate programs and scrub key data and information from federal government websites. Key losses have included a White House climate change website, climate-related pages on the Environmental Protection Agency site, and the Department of Energy’s decision to close its Office of International Climate Change Technology.
“NOAA, however, continues to maintain social media accounts devoted to climate change,” the Times notes.