Scott Pruitt, the newly appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in an interview with CNBC yesterday that he didn’t believe that carbon dioxide is a major driver of climate change. This puts Pruitt, who has no training whatsoever as a climate scientist, in disagreement with nearly every single climate scientist on the planet; according to NASA, at least 97% of all climate scientists agree that human action, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, is causing unprecedented global warming.
Pruitt’s full response, which can be found below, was given in answer to a simple question about the role of carbon dioxide in climate change:
I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's [carbon dioxide] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.
Pruitt isn’t stating an alternative fact here: He is wrong. Or he is lying. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that the burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change, that climate change is bad, and that we have a climate change denier as the head of the EPA.
This is far from the first time that climate science has been incorrectly labeled as being in “tremendous disagreement about” the true nature and impact of global warming. In 1989, following the playbook used by Big Tobacco to deny the link between smoking and cancer, the fossil fuel industry created a number of organizations to publicly challenge the soundness of climate science. These organizations recruited scientists that were willing and able to convince journalists, politicians, and the public “that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap the sun's heat near Earth.” Twenty-five years later, and we’re still listening to the same song.
The below statements from scientists, environmentalists, and politicians are just a sample of the outcry sounded over the internet yesterday after Pruitt so boldly went where many climate deniers have gone before.* They might give you a laugh, or make you cry.
World-renowned climate expert Peter Gleick:
Don Wuebbles, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Illinois:
I suggest he talk with his own scientists and read the National Climate Assessment.
John Abraham, Professor of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas:
Actually scientists have known since the mid 1800s that carbon dioxide was a major greenhouse gas. This means Mr. Pruitt’s knowledge is close to 200 years out of date.
We wanted to check EPA Administrator Pruitt's comments with appropriate scientific experts, but all the fifth graders we know are still in school.
Administrator Pruitt, who holds the most important environmental and public health protection job on the planet, has once again shown he’s uniquely unqualified to shoulder the responsibilities of the position. He and President Trump are the only two people on Earth standing in the way of the U.S. taking the bold actions necessary to stave off the devastation climate change is already causing worldwide. Pruitt’s comments today send a clear and ominous signal that we’re all in big trouble.
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii:
Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at National Center for Atmospheric Research:
Pruitt has demonstrated that he is unqualified to run the EPA or any agency. There is no doubt whatsoever that the planet is warming and it is primarily due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide has increased by over 40% in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, but over half of that increase has occurred since 1980. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and we can demonstrate clearly that the observed warming of the planet would not have occurred without that change in atmospheric composition. These are scientific facts, not opinion, and it is incumbent on politicians to take account of the scientific evidence.
Phil Plait, astronomer and science writer:
NASA Chief Major General Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., (USMC-Ret.)
…2015’s record temperatures are the result of the gradual, yet accelerating, build up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists have been warning about it for decades and now we are experiencing it.
Ben Santer, climate researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:
Mr. Pruitt is wrong… The consensus message from many national and international assessments of the science is pretty simple: Natural factors can’t explain the size or patterns of observed warming… The human contribution to recent warming is mainly due to carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning. Human-caused warming dwarfs the warming caused by natural factors. We can’t afford to reject this clear and compelling scientific evidence when we make public policy. Embracing ignorance is not an option.
And then there's the steady stream of feedback from Twitter's #Pruitt:
— Common Sense (@__Ahem__) March 10, 2017
*Many of the quotes in this article were provided by Climate Nexus.