Scientists rebuff EPA chief’s claim that global warming may be good
John Bacon, USA Today February 8, 2018
(Photo: Pete Marovich)
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s assertion that global warming might be beneficial because “humans have most flourished” during warming trends is drawing heavy skepticism from many climate-change experts.
Pruitt, in an interview with KSNV-TV in Las Vegas this week, acknowledged that “human activity” contributes to global warming, thus walking back his previous statements questioning whether carbon dioxide levels driven higher by human pollution play a role in climate change.
“No one disputes the climate changes,” Pruitt said. “We obviously contribute to it … our activity contributes to it.”
But Pruitt questioned whether climate change is an “existential threat.”
“We know humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends,” Pruitt said. “I think there are assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? That is fairly arrogant, for us to think we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”
Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Penn State and co-author of The Madhouse Effect, said Pruitt’s claims are a “wonderful example of what we call the ‘stages of denial.'”
The only consistency in the various arguments of climate change deniers is that we should continue to burn fossil fuels, Mann said.
“As the evidence becomes ever more compelling that climate change is real and human caused, the forces of denial turn to other specious argument, like ‘it will be good for us,'” Mann said.
Stanford environment professor Chris Field, who oversaw a United Nations and World Meteorological Organization scientific report on climate change, echoed Mann’s sentiments. Field said “thousands” of studies document that a warming planet causes a host of problems, not just from high temperatures but also from heat waves, higher seas, heavier downpours, and more frequent destructive hurricanes and wildfires.
“With all these impacts, you can imagine the occasional business that benefits,” he said. “For example, homebuilders after a fire or flood. But the vast majority of the people experience losses, sometimes catastrophic losses.”
Speculation “isn’t helpful,” Field said. “The evidence based on real observations of real events is overwhelming.”
Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, said the impact of global warming on health and the sustainability of the food supply are “not good.”
“Because of local variability there are locations where warming has had some benefit,” Goldman acknowledged, adding that “things are worse, overall.”
Pruitt said he wants an “honest, open, transparent debate about what do we know, what don’t we know, so the American people can be informed and they can make decisions on their own with respect to these issues.”
Pruitt also questioned what role his agency should have in curbing the carbon dioxide footprint. He said EPA efforts to do so during the Obama administration were mostly rejected by the courts, and that his job is to “execute, not legislate” pollution laws.
Before taking over the EPA, Pruitt served as Oklahoma’s attorney general. In that roll the Republican sued 14 times to block clean air and water safeguards established by the EPA, the agency he now leads.
The Trump administration has worked to roll back the Clean Power Plan that the Obama White House pushed out in 2015 to combat climate change. And Trump’s decision to bow out of the Paris Agreement, an international accord to reduce carbon emissions, has drawn outrage from Democrats and environmental groups.