Ditching Paris had nothing to do with science

Source: Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ever since U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt helped orchestrate the United States’ withdrawal from an international climate accord backed by decades of scientific research, he has spent days deflecting dozens of questions about science.

The hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”  tried more than 10 times to get Pruitt to answer whether or not President Trump believes in climate change and whether that played any role in his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

“So the conversation about Paris — which at its core is about climate change and the world’s impact, and human impact on it — you never raised that with president Trump in a meeting?” host Willie Geist asked Pruitt.

“The focus of the discussion was on the merits and demerits of what Paris sought to achieve,” the EPA chief answered, adding, “The reason you’re asking this question is to get away from the merits and demerits of the climate accord.”

It was the closest any administration official has come to acknowledging what many observers have suspected: Science did not play any role in the Paris withdrawal decision.

Asking if the president believes what hundreds of federal climate scientists across multiple agencies could easily summarize is not an insignificant question. The Paris accord was crafted around the best current understanding of rising global temperatures, with dozens of peer-reviewed studies underpinning the agreement. But Trump didn’t mention science once in his Rose Garden speech announcing America’s withdrawal, even to dismiss it as a “hoax” as he has in the past. Administration officials in subsequent interviews also dodged questions on the science.

John Holdren, the former science adviser to President Obama, described it as avoidance with a purpose.

“I think they have found they haven’t been doing that well in attacking the science,” he said, adding, “I think they have probably decided to keep ignoring the science and just keep hammering on this notion that Paris was a bad deal.”

Are ‘red teams’ around the corner?

There is no public indication that scientists were involved at all with the administration’s decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement, said Rush Holt, CEO of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and a former Democratic congressman.

“Traditionally, when politicians or ordinary folks ignore science, they do it with a certain amount of embarrassment because they know they shouldn’t ignore it,” he said. “I don’t hear any sense of embarrassment; they don’t seem to have any sense of what they’re missing by not having scientific evidence presented to them.”

In another interview, Pruitt suggested he wants to go further than simply ignoring science. Appearing on conservative Breitbart radio on Monday, the EPA chief seemed to agree with host Joel Pollak’s assertion that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant that should be regulated by Pruitt’s agency. He also brought up the notion of a federal science review, called “red teams,” a concept that is supported by climate skeptics seeking to introduce more doubt around the science and is used for military maneuvers at the Department of Defense.

Pruitt said the country needs a “true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2.”

“The American people need to have that type of honest, open discussion, and it’s something we hope to provide as part of our leadership,” he said.

The notion of red teams was first broached in March by two prominent skeptics who were invited to testify before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Conservative lawmakers embraced the concept, which critics say is intended only to create a false sense of uncertainty around basic climate science.

Pruitt’s comments are the first time a Trump Cabinet member has voiced public support for deploying red teams in science.

The notion that the climate science underpinning the Paris Agreement needs to be reviewed shows the ignorance of politicians who don’t care how science works, said Holdren, who noted that all legitimate science is already peer-reviewed. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments faced what was essentially the most significant red team ever, which is intense scrutiny among the world’s top scientists and industry officials.

“Nobody has been able to find a major flaw in mainstream climate science; nobody has been able to find an alternative explanation for what’s changing the climate other than the buildup of greenhouse gases produced by human activities in the atmosphere, which perfectly fit in magnitude, in fingerprint and in timing what is being observed,” Holdren said.

Happer: White House ‘could use’ science advice

The administration has not simply ignored science in the last 100 days, however. Trump’s budget proposal suggested cutting billions of dollars in federal research, with a particular emphasis on climate science.

The rationale goes beyond any argument for greater efficiency and actually suggests cutting off the Earth-observing functions of satellites already in orbit.

Of 46 key federal science posts, Trump has nominated people for seven, The Washington Post reported yesterday. That includes, most notably, the science adviser and the leader of the Council on Environmental Quality, even though the names floated publicly for both of those positions include climate skeptics with links to the fossil fuel industry.

Even Trump’s possible science adviser, Princeton University physics professor William Happer, said the president needs to incorporate science into his decision.

Happer is a staunch critic of the Paris deal and praised the president’s “leadership” in dropping out, but said science also plays a role in numerous parts of the federal bureaucracy, including defense and innovation.

“I think they could use some science advice,” said Happer, who met with Trump before his inauguration. “There are many areas in the U.S. where science and technology are important, and I believe this administration understands that.”