EUGENE, Ore. (CN) – With two weeks left in Barack Obama’s presidency, lawyers for the government acknowledged in a court filing that climate change is caused by humans and that its effects could be catastrophic. On Friday, the lawyer who authored that document couldn’t tell a judge whether the Trump administration would now reverse its position and deny that climate change is real.
“We haven’t received any guidance from on high, so we don’t know yet,” Justice Department lawyer Sean Duffy told U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin at Friday’s hearing in the Wayne Morse Courthouse.
Nearly two dozen teens and climate scientist James Hanson sued the federal government in August 2015, claiming the government has known for half a decade that climate change imperils the future of humanity, but made things worse by continuing to hand subsidies and permits to the fossil-fuel industry and other global polluters.
Under Obama, the government issued an answer to the complaint that acknowledged many of the kids’ allegations as true.
But since the election of President Donald Trump, the government has slashed the budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, deleted scientific data from the agency’s website and issued a gag order for agency employees.
That abrupt shift made the task uncertain for the kids’ lawyer Julia Olson. Olson demanded evidence from the government going back until at least 1965 that she said would show the government’s “deliberate indifference” to the hazards it was causing by failing to stop climate change.
On Friday, Judge Coffin suggested that was unnecessary.
“The government has admitted a number of significant admissions that the plaintiffs made in their complaint,” the judge said.
He then read aloud from the government’s answer to the complaint, listing a fraction of the dozens of claims from the lawsuit that the government had agreed were true.
“To quote just some, you have admitted that: global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are at unprecedentedly high levels compared to the past 800,000 years of historical data and pose risks to human health and welfare; that from 1850 to 2012, carbon dioxide emissions from within the United States comprised more than 25 percent of global emissions; that there is a scientific consensus that the buildup of greenhouse gasses due to human activities is changing the global climate at a pace and in a way that threatens human health and the natural environment; that in 2013, daily average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years; that monthly global average carbon dioxide concentrations reached levels unprecedented for at least 2.6 million years and that the earth has now warmed about 0.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures,” the judge said.