Matthew Boyle examines the director of the EPA’s latest remarks
Scott Pruitt, the Trump-appointed director of the U.S.’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has recently begun questioning whether it is necessarily a bad thing that the planet is warming. While there’s nothing new in Pruitt openly questioning the scientific consensus on climate change, his supposed reason for doing so indicates an interesting change of tactics. Traditionally, climate change deniers have simply denied that the climate is changing at all or that humans are the cause of it. Pruitt’s adoption of this new justification for opposing environmental regulations might be an indication that global warming is becoming increasingly difficult to completely deny, even for those most invested in climate change denial.
In reality, the argument that warmer temperatures might be good for humanity is no different from any other theory used by climate change deniers. It still takes advantage of the poorly understood complexities of climate science to spread misinformation and doubt. Just as record-breaking snowfall in some parts of the world was used to deny that the planet was getting warmer, any situation where hotter temperatures have positive or little effect is presented as proof that environmentalists are just creating hysteria for political purposes.
Pruitt, like many climate change deniers, presents himself as having no agenda other than making sure people understand the whole truth about climate science. He does not predict global warming will be good for humanity, he just thinks that it might be and that people should not rush to judgement without knowing all the facts. Of course, this is completely disingenuous because it is a fact that warming temperatures means, among other things, rising sea levels and this alone threatens the very existence of many of the world’s largest cities. However, there is uncertainty in the alternate reality where Pruitt and climate change deniers exist, and until it is resolved any action to prevent further global warming would be premature. Accordingly, there needs to be an open debate about climate change where both sides can present their views and possibly come to an agreement. After all, what is the alternative? Trust scientists whose job requires them to have a firm understanding of the issue?
Pruitt’s new reason to deny the actual impact of climate change also makes use of the same distrust of certain elites that prior theories of denying climate change utilised. For one, Pruitt’s personal sense of uncertainty about climate change appears to be a valid counterargument to the entire scientific community that disagrees with him. To justify his disregard for scientific consensus, Pruitt consistently paints the research done to demonstrate the negative impacts of climate change as carried out by people with partisan or other biased motivations. In doing so, he effectively renders decades of consistent findings by researchers of climate change invalid. Thus, scientists will have to spend even more time than they already have re-proving the existence and impact of man-made climate change through “objective” research, as defined by Pruitt and climate change deniers. Considering that it has already taken decades for world leaders to start taking climate change seriously, such an unnecessary reassessment could stall action on climate change until it is too late to prevent conditions that would threaten humanity’s survival.
Stalling action on climate change is precisely what Pruitt hopes to do by using his office to sow the seeds of doubt about climate science. Since the status quo favours the fossil fuel industries, Pruitt serves their interests best by suggesting that environmental protections continue to be debated and researched with no indication or expectation that the results will be translated into policies. His argument is deceptively simple. He is just looking for the whole truth and nothing but the truth on climate change. Yet, the reality is the truth is already out there. He, and other climate change deniers like him, simply refuse to see it because they do not agree with it.
Featured image: Gage Skidmore, Flickr