What melting glacier? I don’t see any melting glacier…
So far, President Donald Trump has shown a propensity to surround himself with climate deniers. There’s Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Rick Perry at the Energy Department, and Ryan Zinke over at Interior, for example.
Each of these cabinet officials dispute central findings produced by decades to centuries of climate science research.
But Trump saved the best for last when he nominated Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the Council on Environmental Quality, a top environmental policy making role in the White House.
On Wednesday, she gave some serious head-on-desk answers to senators’ questions about her take on climate science and environmental policy in general.
Even among climate deniers, Hartnett White’s views stand out for being particularly extreme.
For example, in an op-ed in June of last year, she wrote that adding carbon dioxide to the air is actually beneficial for the environment.
“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and carbon is certainly not a poison,” Hartnett White wrote.
“… This falsely maligned natural gas is better known as the ‘gas of life’ because it is a necessary nutrient for plant growth — the food base of life on the planet Earth.”
Ummm, ok, but, there are so many things wrong with that. It’s difficult to know where to begin.
On Wednesday, Hartnett White told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that carbon dioxide levels have risen, but “have not gone up drastically” since the industrial revolution.
In reality, scientific research shows that carbon dioxide levels vaulted to the highest in human history during just the past century or more, comparable to readings last seen about 3 to 5 million years ago.
Here’s a chart showing this:
CO2 levels during the past 800,000 years. Arrow points to today.
That seems kind of, I don’t know, drastic, no?
Then there was her lengthy exchange with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who was stunned by how little Hartnett White knew about climate science. Whitehouse has now made 185 weekly floor speeches on climate change, so he knows his stuff. The end of this exchange is subtle, but it’s the equivalent of a sick science burn.
He looked absolutely flabbergasted by Hartnett White’s answers to his climate science 101 inquiries.
Here’s a transcript of the exchange.
Whitehouse: “Of the additional heat that has been captured in the atmosphere as a result of greenhouse gas emissions do you know how much of that excess heat has been captured by the oceans, is it more or less than 50 percent do you even know that?”
KHW: “No, but I believe there are difference of opinions on that, there is not one right answer.”
Whitehouse: “Really?… Do you think there’s actual serious difference of opinion on whether it’s below 50 percent?”
KHW: “Um, unless I’m mistaken, yes.”
Whitehouse: “You think there is a serious difference of opinion as to how much of that has been captured by the ocean? You think there’s serious scientific opinion that it’s below 50 percent?”
Whitehouse: “Ok, wow…”
KHW: “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate change issue.”
Whitehouse: “Just enough [knowledge] to know that you think there’s not science that establishes clearly how much of the heat has been taken up by the oceans. You knew that, right? You said you knew that.”
According to climate science research, the vast majority of extra heat going into the Earth’s climate system as a result of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations is going into the oceans. There is little to no debate about this in the climate science community, not even at climate denial conferences.
The most up-to-date scientific assessment on global warming, released on Nov. 3, found that the world’s oceans have absorbed “about 93 percent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gas warming since the mid-20th century, making them warmer and altering global and regional climate feedbacks.”
Hartnett White also repeated a common refrain heard from other Trump nominees, which is that we just don’t know how much of recent climate change is natural versus human-caused.
Except that’s B.S. considering the fact that numerous analyses in the scientific literature show that humans now play the dominant role in our changing climate.
“I’m not a scientist, but in my personal capacity, I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy,” Hartnett White said during her confirmation hearing. “I think we indeed need to have more precise explanations of the human role and the natural role.”
The climate assessment released last week found that emissions of greenhouse gases are the cause of at least 93 percent of global warming since 1951.
Trends in ocean heat content measured at various depths.
Hartnett White dismissed that analysis, which was reviewed by the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences, as a product of the previous administration, even though it was Congress that ordered it.
The CEQ director, as spelled out by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, works to set environmental policy goals for the nation and to develop regulations and guidance for how agencies should conduct their environmental review processes.
Hartnett White could use the position to help fast-track infrastructure projects, including oil and gas drilling and other potentially environmentally harmful activities.