EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said that measuring the effect of human activity on the climate is “very challenging” and that “there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
A major Northeast snowstorm in mid-March is likely to produce at least three patience-taxing effects — power outages, adverse road conditions and idiotic politicians who believe the presence of snow somehow refutes the science of climate change. Of course, this blizzard business is just a "theory," but we can point to the most recent such Mid-Atlantic late-winter snow (during the last week of February in 2015) and recall Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma bringing a snowball to the Senate floor to make just such a claim.
How fitting then that the latest disbeliever is a fellow Oklahoman, Scott Pruitt, who heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and last week said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" the following about man's impact on the climate: "I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see."
Squint hard and Mr. Pruitt's point that "precision" in measuring how man-made greenhouse gases affect climate is not unreasonable, but that's not where the former Oklahoma attorney general's train-of-thought was headed. His ultimate claim that carbon dioxide from power plants, vehicle exhausts and other human-related sources do not add up to be a "primary contributor" puts him at odds with mainstream science. He's not just wrong, he's dangerously wrong.
It's not a huge surprise, of course. As an attorney general with strong ties to the oil and gas industry, Mr. Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times. And it's not as if President Donald Trump has been standing up for science either — he famously referred to global warming as a "hoax" linked to the Chinese. There are others in the cabinet with strong ties to the fossil fuel industry, too, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the former Texas governor. And the administration couldn't move fast enough to approve the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines without a thought to their impacts on climate.
Here are the facts. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other gases that create a "greenhouse effect" trapping solar radiation in the atmosphere. As a result, carbon dioxide levels are at their highest point in 800,000 years and global surface temperatures are increasing. Sea levels are rising, storms are becoming more severe, and the risks of droughts and floods, food and water shortages and disease outbreaks are increasing, too. Can scientists predict with certainty exactly when the worst calamities will befall us? No. But that doesn't mean the world should ignore such a serious threat.
Unfortunately, we're not really having a debate about science. What's happening is that conservatives see climate scientists and their supporters as socialists who seek government control of the private sector. Thus, no amount of historic data, no scientific evidence, no Arctic core samples or satellite imagery is going to convince them until, perhaps, the ocean is lapping at their doorstep. And maybe not even then, as the Trump administration has demonstrated a strong aversion to facts when they counter the favored narrative.
For the record, snow in mid-March is an example of weather, not climate. A better example of climate is that the acidity of the oceans has increased 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution as the oceans have absorbed greater and greater levels of carbon dioxide. Or perhaps the worldwide retreat of glaciers or that 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have taken place since 2001, according to NASA research.
Finally, it's ludicrous to perceive energy policies that factor in climate change as somehow anti-growth or anti-jobs. Indeed, limiting greenhouse gas emissions might not be great for the fossil fuel industry, but it's an approach that produces positive economic benefits. Renewable energy and conservation programs have produced tens of thousands of jobs in Maryland alone. A proposed off-shore wind farm now under review by the state's public service commission could add an estimated 5,000 more.
Mr. Pruitt's comments about climate change caused the EPA switchboard to be flooded with calls last week. Such environmental activism, particularly at the State House level, will be crucial if the world is to continue down a more rational path. After all, in the unlikely event that scientists have overestimated the impact of carbon dioxide, the benefits of using less fossil fuel — greater energy independence, less pollution, improved human health and conservation of a limited resource — can only benefit the nation and the particularly the next generation.