This story has been updated.
Yes, Donald Trump met with Al Gore. But on Friday, according to the Trump transition team, the president-elect also met with William Happer, a Princeton professor of physics who has been a prominent voice in questioning whether we should be concerned about human-caused climate change.
In 2015 Senate testimony, Happer argued that the “benefits that more [carbon dioxide] brings from increased agricultural yields and modest warming far outweigh any harm.”
While not denying outright that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will warm the planet, he also stated that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide would only cause between 0.5 and 1.5 degrees Celsius of planetary warming. The most recent assessment of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts the figure much higher, at between 1.5 degrees and 4.5 degrees C.
“All trees, and many other plants, wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton, etc., are handicapped because, by historical standards, there currently is too little, not too much, CO2 in the atmosphere,” read a slide contained in Happer’s testimony.
“A dispassionate analysis of the science indicates that more CO2 will bring benefits, not harm to the world,” he also said in the testimony.
Happer did not answer questions on his way into the elevator to meet with Trump, according to pool reports. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Post.
E&E News, which was apparently first to report on the meeting, noted that it was “unclear” whether Happer might be under consideration for energy or science positions in the administration. There certainly remain many of those to fill.
Happer is not wrong that carbon dioxide appears to bolster plant growth — the greening up of the Arctic has, indeed, been observed. But that comes with many other consequences, including melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost, which can emit still more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
“While we are perhaps lucky that CO2 has this effect on plant physiology, in addition to being a greenhouse gas, it is not our ‘get out of jail free’ card when it comes to our ongoing emissions of CO2,” climate scientist Richard Betts of the U.K.’s Hadley Centre wrote on the subject recently.
Happer is an eminent physicist who held prominent positions at the Department of Energy, as well as at his university, and has 200 scientific publications to his name. But in 2009 testimony, he went even further in countering the scientific consensus on climate change, asserting that “the current warming also seems to be due mostly to natural causes, not to increasing levels of carbon dioxide.” Most scientists have been plain and very clear that carbon dioxide is indeed the cause of most of the current warming.
In a 2011 essay in the journal First Things, Happer further argued that “the ‘climate crusade’ is one characterized by true believers, opportunists, cynics, money-hungry governments, manipulators of various types — even children’s crusades — all based on contested science and dubious claims.”
The essay triggered an in-depth rebuttal from Michael MacCracken, a climate scientist who formerly directed the U.S. Global Change Research Program in the Bill Clinton administration, and who characterized it as “so misleading that, in my view, it merits a paragraph-by-paragraph response.”
The meeting may be most noteworthy as an example of how Trump plans to get scientific advice — through meetings with people whose views are not necessarily part of the mainstream. It’s not a model that most scientists will approve of.
Trump has met individually not only with Happer, but also with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose views on the safety of vaccines have been rejected by scientific authorities. The meeting has caused alarm in the medical community.
The president-elect has not yet named a presidential science adviser.
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