BARBARA HOWARD: President Donald Trump cited MIT research yesterday, in laying out his case for pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. But the scientists behind that research? They dispute the president's interpretation of their work. With us on the line is John Reilly. He is co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, the group whose work Trump cited. Thanks for being with us, Dr. Reilly.

JOHN REILLY: Thank you.

BARBARA HOWARD: So, when the president cited your study, he said, and I’ll quote, “Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full with total compliance from all nations, it’s estimated it would produce only a two-tenths of one degree Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” And he went on to say that that’s a quote, “tiny, tiny amount.” What’s wrong with that?

JOHN REILLY: Well, that’s the incremental effect of just Paris. There’s been previous policy agreements before, and so if you add all of those up, we think you’re avoiding about a full one degree of warming. So that’s getting us away the four and five, down to the 3.5 or so…


JOHN REILLY: Degrees, warming by 2100. So that’s some progress. We still have a lot more to do, certainly that’s the case. No one believes that the Paris Agreement is the last thing we’re going to do. It includes a process for revisiting, revising and extending the agreement.

BARBARA HOWARD: Well the, the path we’re on, of increased carbon emissions, it’s not like it can sort of turn on a dime. It sounds like, it’s a, inertia is with you, you’re going to have to slow it down and then start reversing it?

JOHN REILLY: The whole energy sector and the climate system is a giant oil tanker that you have to turn slowly, slowly, slowly. So if you don’t continue, making that turn, you’ll never get to where you want to be, right?

BARBARA HOWARD: Okay. And so, what would it mean though if we don’t turn?

JOHN REILLY: Then we’re going to end up with, you know, something on the order of four or five degrees warming by 2100. That’s going to result in, really, a lot of disruption. We’ve seen a lot of heat deaths in places like India and Europe already from the warming we’ve seen. We’re seeing the disappearance of Arctic ice, we’re seeing some melting of the Greenland ice sheet. All of those things at four and five degrees would turn into a disaster.

BARBARA HOWARD: Now, did the White House communicate with you or with your colleagues before citing your study?

JOHN REILLY: No, it was a complete surprise. In fact, we were a bit confused. We weren’t sure which paper they were citing. We’ve done several of them, so it took us by complete surprise.

BARBARA HOWARD: Well all the work you’ve put in to see it cited this way, how are your colleagues taking this?

JOHN REILLY: Well, we — all of us here believe the Paris Agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do. We hoped it would solidify the idea that the Paris Agreement was moving us forward. In fact, you know, our goal of just looking at this incremental effect was to emphasize that yes, it was a step forward but a lot more was needed to be done. Not that we reverse ourselves.

BARBARA HOWARD: Are you planning any kind of a response?

JOHN REILLY: Well we are trying to get our message out. MIT has released a, a release just to kind of clarify our view of it and try to get more of the story out so that people aren’t confused.

BARBARA HOWARD: This sounds like for you and for your colleagues it’s your life’s work. What is it like personally for you to have it used this way?

JOHN REILLY: Well, this isn’t the first time. You know I’ve been working on the climate issue all my career, for, you know, 35 years. I mean, it’s, at this point it’s not, it’s not … I’m less concerned about my personal career, I’m more concerned about where the planet … I’m sorry …

BARBARA HOWARD: Yeah, go ahead.

JOHN REILLY: Where the pla-, where the planet is heading.

BARBARA HOWARD: I’m so sorry.


BARBARA HOWARD: Alright, thanks for joining us Dr. Reilly.

JOHN REILLY: Thank you.

BARBARA HOWARD: That's John Reilly. He’s co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. President Trump cited the group's research in justifying his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, but the group says that the President misinterpreted their work. This is All Things Considered.