The international scientific community overwhelmingly concurs that climate change is real, that it is caused and exacerbated by human activity and that it poses a possibly irreversible and potentially existential threat to humanity. Fully 97 percent of climate scientists, as well as the national science academies of almost every country on Earth, agree. The Pentagon has warned that climate change is “an urgent and growing threat” to US national security that is “contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water.” President Barack Obama, despite his administration’s woefully inadequate response to global warming, has said that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”
The latest figures show that September 2016 was the hottest month of the hottest yearever recorded. The polar ice caps are melting at a record pace, fueling rising, warming oceans and forcing entire island nations to plan permanent emergency evacuationsbefore they’re swallowed by surging seas. According to a major international study commissioned by 20 national governments, climate change kills 400,000 people per year — including 1,000 children a day — and costs the global economy $1.2 trillion annually. Climate refugees aren’t just a developing world problem — from the Louisiana bayous to the Alaskan tundra, a growing number of Americans are facing life-threatening consequences and heartbreaking choices due to climate change.
Yet to President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to pursue an “America First”energy policy featuring vastly increased domestic fossil fuel production, climate change is, at worst, an “expensive hoax” invented by China to hamstring the American economy or, at best, something that “nobody really knows” if it is real. And while Trump has said he’s “open-minded” on the subject, many of his key cabinet picks so far, as well as much of his transition team, are climate change skeptics or outright deniers, and the president-elect himself is heavily invested in fossil fuel interests, including the highly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline.
Here are some of Trump’s more alarming picks for key administration positions, along with their views on climate change:
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency
“The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment,” the agency’s website explains, adding that it is tasked with ensuring that “national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information.” However, Scott Pruitt, attorney-general of Oklahoma (whose state capitol complex contains working oil wells, with the names of energy companies engraved inside the state house), is shockingly dismissive of the aforementioned best available science. The ardent climate change skeptic, who falsely claims that the science on the matter is “far from settled” and who refuses to say whether he believes man-made global warming is real, is a tireless champion of the fossil fuel industry, which has donatedhundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign coffers. For all its largesse, Big Oil got a loyal servant who fiercely fought federal pollution controls for power plants and carbon emission cuts. Pruitt will soon be in charge of protecting the air and water that sustain life on Earth, prompting the leading environmental group Sierra Club to likenhis selection to “putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
“I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does,” Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who served as EPA chief during George W. Bush’s first term, said of Pruitt in a recent interview with Grist. “It doesn’t put us in a good place.”
Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior
Before running for Congress, this former highly-decorated Navy SEAL commander supported government subsidies for renewable energy development and legislation to tackle climate change. But Zinke, who gets a 3/100 lifetime score on environmental issues from the League of Conservation Voters, has devolved into a climate skeptic, falsely opining in one 2014 campaign debate that while climate change is “not a hoax, … it’s not proven science either” and then declaring that he’d seen no evidence that climate change is changing the weather (or that fracking is dangerous). Zinke favors a so-called “all of the above” energy policy and is not inimical to renewables like many Republicans have been.
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State
While the ExxonMobil CEO acknowledges that “the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action,” the board of the world’s largest energy company and one of the planet’s most prolific polluters is dead-set against meaningful action to combat global warming. Worse, the company funds climate change denier organizations. Worse yet, ExxonMobil scientists and executives knew about human-caused climate change and the potentially catastrophic consequences of the greenhouse effect as early as 1977 but spent billions of dollars over the following decades on lobbying, misinformation and climate denial science. The company is currently under investigation for allegedly lying to the public about climate change risks, and a federal lawsuit has been filed in connection with the cover-up.
Environmental advocates are appalled by Tillerson’s selection as the nation’s top diplomat. “Coupled with the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for EPA administration, there’s a real concern that President-elect Trump is creating a government of, by, and for the oil and gas industry,” Kathy Mulvey, climate accountability campaign manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in response to Tillerson’s nomination. “The analogy of the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state would be akin to nominating a tobacco CEO as surgeon general.”
Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy
Although Perry, while running for president in 2012, infamously said he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy — even while forgetting it was one of the three government agencies he wished to end, the former Texas governor’s record and views on climate change are the polar opposite of every energy chief in both the Bush and Obama administrations. Perry not only denies that climate change is real, he actually wrote that the Earth is cooling and has accused climate scientists of having “manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.” While governor, his administration censored climate scientists by removing language from a report on sea level rise in Galveston Bay which attributed global warming to human activity. Although Perry’s Texas energy legacy is mixed — he has expressed pride in the fact that the state is a leader in renewables including wind and solar power, the fossil fuel industry has been one of his most generous donors, possibly helping to explain why he has been so out of touch with the global scientific consensus on climate change. Perry, who sits on the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, also supports opening up more land for oil and natural gas drilling, including fracking.
Steve Bannon, Chief White House Strategist
Other climate deniers or skeptics in Trump’s nascent administration include Jeff Sessions (attorney general), Reince Priebus (chief of staff), Mike Pompeo (CIA director), Tom Price (health), Elaine Chao (transportation), Ben Carson (housing), Nikki Haley (United Nations ambassador) and Linda McMahon (small business). It should, however, be noted that there are a couple of prominent exceptions to the deniers and doubters in the incoming regime. Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, tapped to become Trump’s defense secretary, is said to understand the environmental, economic and strategic threats posed by climate change, and soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence has said that there is “no question” that human activity is driving climate change. On the whole, however, environmentalists around the world are terrified by the prospect of a Trump administration.
“Forget draining the swamp, Trump wants to frack, mine and drill it,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate action group 350.org, wryly tweeted in response to the president-elect’s picks. With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress (including the king of climate deniers, Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, heading the Senate environmental committee), and with wealthy denialist donors ready to reward — or punish — Trump in 2020, it increasingly appears as if the tenuous global fight against climate change is in grave danger as a result of the billionaire businessman’s rise, with potentially existential consequences for all of humanity.