On Monday, an eyebrow-raising meeting between Donald Trump and former vice president Al Gore added fuel to recent speculation that the president-elect might be softening his stance on climate change, which he’s famously referred to in the past as a “hoax invented by the Chinese.” Gore later told reporters that the meeting constituted a “sincere search for common ground.”
In fact, just a few weeks ago, Trump told The New York Times he was keeping “an open mind” in regard to the Paris climate agreement, and that he thought there was “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. Since then, media reports have been buzzing over the possibility Trump might be changing his tune on the climate issue.
But does this cancel out all of Trump’s tweets that are outright dismissive and frequently conspiratorial about the climate issue?
Not necessarily, especially when you consider that as we watch the new administration take shape, we keep seeing individuals appointed to transition positions, considered for major environmental posts, or acting as advisers who have previously also expressed doubt about key aspects of the science of climate change, or opposed various types of action on the problem.
Here are just a few:
Steven Groves, “landing team” member. Writing at the Daily Signal, Groves, a researcher from the conservative Heritage Foundation, co-authored an article that detailed a way to extricate the U.S. from the Paris climate deal, referring to the “vague and unsubstantiated risks posed by carbon emissions.” To the contrary, research on climate change is extensive and strongly documents that it is caused by humans and sure to worsen as emissions continue — and that myriad risks will follow, many of which are already occurring.
Department of Homeland Security
James Carafano, “landing team” member. Also currently at the Heritage Foundation, where he is a fellow, Carafano has argued against the idea that climate change is a national security risk. In 2009, he penned an essay for the Heritage Foundation suggesting that “to make the national security arguments, global warming legislation advocates must embrace the most alarmist scenarios.” He reiterated this stance in 2014 in an opinion piece for The National Interest, where he suggested that President Obama’s characterization of climate change as a national security crisis was a “war on weather.”
In fact, multiple studies have recently suggested a link between climate and global conflict, including one highly covered report linking drought in Syria to the eventual outbreak of the nation’s ongoing civil war.
Bob Walker, senior policy adviser to the Trump campaign, reportedly an adviser on space issues during the transition. Walker, a Pennsylvania congressman from 1977 to 1997 and former chair of the House science committee recently stunned the climate science community when he told the Guardian (and later, CBC radio in Canada) that NASA should cease its climate research and focus solely on space, adding that “Mr. Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.”
While Walker also insisted that he does “believe that climate research is necessary,” researchers say his recommendation would harm it. NASA satellites have provided some of the world’s most precise observations of temperature, sea ice extent, glacial melt and other climate-related measurements. As researcher Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research recently told The Guardian, cutting NASA’s climate research “could put us back into the ‘dark ages’ of almost the pre-satellite era. It would be extremely short-sighted.”
Environmental Protection Agency
Myron Ebell, “landing team” member. Appearing on C-SPAN last year, Ebell, who works at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, stated that “the entire global warming scare is based on modeling, it’s not based on data.” This is incorrect. The temperature data are clear — 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years on record in quick succession, and 2016 is strongly expected to make it three in a row. The planet is now about 1 degree Celsius warmer than it was in pre-industrial times. Also, scientists don’t need complex computer simulations, or models, to underscore the basic reason why greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to make this worse: This is what greenhouse gases do. They trap heat. It’s physics.
Other data showing that humans are warming the planet include the data recording ever rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, data showing stark declines in the extent of Arctic sea ice, and data showing the pervasive warming of the planet’s oceans.
Kathleen Hartnett White, possible candidate for EPA administrator. Currently a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, White suggested in a 2014 paper that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s climate science is “founded on assumptions and speculative models [and] is increasingly contradicted by empirical evidence and thus remains unsettled.” And she added that “evidence about solar activity, natural variability, sea levels, Antarctic sea ice and extreme weather weakens the credibility of the IPCC’s key assumption that man-made CO2 emissions dominate the natural dynamics of the earth’s climate.”
But as we mentioned above, there’s plenty of empirical data to indicate that the planet is warming just as expected from a profusion of greenhouse gases — a quick look at long-term temperature trends since the late 1800s is a good indicator. And scientists have repeatedly debunked claims that solar variation and other natural patterns are the primary drivers behind present-day climate change. And don’t even get us started about Antarctic sea ice.
Department of Energy
Thomas Pyle, “landing team” member. A former lobbyist for Koch Industries, Pyle now heads the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy wing of the Institute for Energy Research (where he is also president). While the Institute for Energy Research acknowledges that humans have caused atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to increase, and that the planet has warmed at the same time, it adds that “how the climate works and the relationship of different variables remains to be determined.” Actually, scientists have already determined that the greenhouse gas variable is central to driving up the temperature.
Pyle himself, meanwhile, has suggested that the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan would have “no impact on climate change.” He’s also written that “reduction of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions alone cannot have a meaningful impact on global climate.”
Department of the Interior
Doug Domenech, “landing team” member. Director of the Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Domenech has previously written that “climate change theory” is “based more on models than observations” and that “models are guesses.” Once again, there’s that “models versus data” claim. In fact, it’s decades of direct observations that have informed scientists of how the planet has already warmed since the 19th century. And the models that scientists use to make projections for future climate change are hardly guesses — they embed equations known to govern the atmosphere and oceans.
Now, in fairness, these are all potential picks or members of transition teams — they’re not the leaders of agencies or part of Trump’s cabinet (yet). But they certainly suggest that if Trump plans on doing a turnaround on climate change, he’s going to need to pick some different people to help implement such a shift.
It also suggests that, since we don’t even know what Gore and Trump discussed and this was just a meeting, we should be hesitant — for now — about assuming any policy change.
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