EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Just Said Something So Dumb, We're Not Even Sure How To Respond

Pruitt, seen here at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. Gage Skidmore/Flickr; CC BY-SA 2.0

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being decimated from within by its own administrator, Scott Pruitt. Not content with this surreal act of self-destruction, though, Pruitt seems keen to muddy the waters of climate science whenever possible.

Speaking to Nevada’s News 3 a few days back, the EPA administrator was having an amiable chat with news anchor Gerard Ramalho. For some reason, while asking Pruitt's thought on climate change, Ramalho rather irritatingly suggested that “people don’t seem to dispute the fact that the climate is changing... but there are two areas that are disputed,” including whether “man is causing the climate to change.”

Quick fact check, folks: scientists are not disputing whether or not people are causing contemporary climate change, because they know that we are. Regardless, like a pyromaniac being handed a box of firelighters, Pruitt clearly relished the opportunity to spin this misinformation out.

“No-one disputes that the climate changes, is changing – that’s constant. We obviously contribute to it. We live in the climate, right?” he began, before erroneously suggesting that we only add to the climate to “a certain degree.”

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, summed up the consensus here quite succinctly. During a recent press conference, he noted that “all of the warming in the last 60 years is attributable to human activities, and carbon dioxide emissions are the number one component of that.”

Then, Pruitt said: “We know that humans have most flourished during times of warming trends. There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that that necessarily is a bad thing.”

Oh, Scott. You do spoil us.

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Arguably the President’s most effective weapon against clean energy and climate change mitigation, Pruitt is a dyed-in-the-wool coal advocate whose science denial serves industry interests with aplomb. Yes, the dismantling of the EPA is insidious and damaging, but so is his rhetoric, which has oscillated from “carbon dioxide does not drive the climate” to “science shouldn’t dictate American policy.”

Flat-out climate denial is becoming a bit old hat, though: the new form of denial is to accept the fact that the contemporary climate is changing, but to also deny the pace of change, deny what’s driving it, or suggest that “the climate has always changed.”

Suggesting that increasing surface temperatures may be good for humanity is a less common but equally incredulous argument to make. Fewer winter deaths and better food productivity in small pockets of the world are clearly overshadowed by the fact that, for many, the unprecedented pace of anthropogenic climate change represents anything from a danger to a full-blown existential crisis.

“These latest comments are part and parcel of a package of misinformation that the current administration is peddling, while millions of American lives, and billions of American dollars, sit in the cross-hairs of climate change,” Prof. Kim Cobb, a climatologist and the Director of Global Change Program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told IFLScience.

“I’d be happy to sit down with the Secretary and clear up the facts around past versus present climate change.”

The dangers of a rapidly warming world are clear. Hurricanes exacerbated by warmer waters and wetter skies have led to record-breaking damages. Warmer and more polluted environments are making people sicker.

Climate change is causing sea levels to rise upon the shores of isolated islands and wealthy coastal metropolises, and it’s even widening the inequality gap as the poor bear the brunt of the detrimental effects. Two billion people may be climate refugees by 2100.

A rapidly warming planet is triggering ecological collapses, with oceanic ecosystems struggling to keep up. Food chains that we rely on are being disrupted, and agriculture is unable to keep up with the rising mercury. Parts of the world will potentially be uninhabitably hot by the middle of this century.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared that “climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.” Flourish, we will not.

There are reasons that international agreements like the Paris accords exist. Science knows that, because of us, the world is warming at an unprecedented pace. We’re scrambling to better understand the damaging effects it will have, but the scientific consensus points toward a worrying future.

Prof. Michael Mann, the Director of the Earth System Science Center at The Pennsylvania State University, suggested to IFLScience that Pruitt's latest notion is just another stage of climate denial.

“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’,” he said.

“There is no consistency at all to their various arguments other than that we should continue to burn fossil fuels.”

The EPA hasn't responded to a request for comment.

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