Scientist who has Trump’s ear rejects climate link to storms

Source: By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019

The only known scientist to brief President Trump on climate change has a long history of rejecting the connection between a warmer world and more intense hurricanes.

William Happer, an emeritus Princeton physics professor and a senior director at the National Security Council, earlier this year briefed Trump on a plan to conduct an “adversarial” review of climate science. The White House has since scuttled the exercise.

The president likely didn’t hear that climate change could be fueling more intense storms like Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Bahamas and still presents a threat to the East Coast.

Happer, who claims that the world needs more carbon dioxide, has long been critical of the vast body of research that shows extreme weather is worsening as a result of climate change.

“People are saying extreme events are increasing, that’s nonsense,” he said in a 2017 lecture in Chapel Hill, N.C.

A few months later, at a Heritage Foundation energy conference, Happer elaborated further, claiming climate change had no connection to droughts, snow cover or hurricanes.

“Snow cover, drought years, wet years, hurricanes … there is no trend,” he said. “And yet you continually hear politicians say you can look out the window, you know, it’s obvious, you know … the wheels are falling off the climate, but it’s not true. It’s simply a lie.”

Earlier this year, Happer blocked a State Department scientist’s written congressional testimony that climate change poses a variety of national security risks. He marked it up with a series of claims disputing that climate change is increasing risks for humanity.

“Agricultural and forestry yields are steadily increasing due to the beneficial effects of more CO2, deaths from extreme weather events are steadily decreasing due to timely warnings of extreme weather, better building and zoning codes,” he wrote.

The National Climate Assessment and other research, however, has found that extreme precipitation events are expected to increase in a warmer world and that storms with the attributes of Hurricane Dorian will be more likely.

And while the connection between hurricanes and climate is complex, there is growing evidence that human-caused climate change makes them worse, according to Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and a lead author of the National Climate Assessment.

“‘Was it caused by climate change?’ is the most common question when we hear about an extreme event,” she wrote on Twitter. “But when it comes to hurricanes, that’s the wrong question. The right one is, ‘how much worse did climate change make it?'”

More than 90% of the heat produced by human-caused global warming goes into the oceans, which are getting warmer. That additional heat can make hurricanes intensify more quickly, move more slowly and increase precipitation, research shows. Those are exactly the type of characteristics that made Dorian, which began as a Category 5 storm, so destructive in the Bahamas.

Happer previously dismissed the climate connections between the hurricanes of the 2017 season, including Hurricanes Maria, which destroyed a large swath of Puerto Rico, and Harvey, which broke precipitation records and caused billions of dollars in damages to Texas. Subsequent peer-reviewed research has found climate change made the storms worse.

Human-caused climate change, for instance, increased the precipitation of Harvey by 38% and the storm’s likelihood by six times, according to research published in Geophysical Research Letters.

“Harvey’s total rainfall was likely compounded by warmer surface water temperatures feeding the direct deep tropical trajectories historically associated with extreme precipitation in Texas, and these warmer temperatures are partly attributable to human-induced climate change,” the National Climate Assessment found.