Prominent Climate Skeptic Gets Top Job At NOAA

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

A controversial climate change denier has been given a top position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US federal agency that produces weather and climate forecasts along with world-renowned research on the Earth's oceans, major waterways, and atmosphere.

David Legates, a professor of climatology at the University of Delaware who has a long history of denying the scientific consensus on climate change, was recently hired as NOAA's deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction, as first reported by NPR. His name can now be found on the NOAA Staff Directory.

Legates has made a career out of climate change denial. For many years, he has maintained that humans and greenhouse gases are not the chief drivers of climate change, contrary to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and a wealth of scientific evidenceThese views are also contrary to the NOAA’s stance on climate change, which states “the primary cause of global climate change today is increasing human emission of greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide.”

One of his noteworthy publications was a study that threw doubt on the role of climate change in destroying the habitat of polar bears. 

Legates is a longtime friend and figure of the Heartland Institute, a free-market libertarian think-tank that spends thousands of dollars fueling a "Climate Denial Machine" to throw doubt on mainstream climate science. The think-tank does not reveal the identities of its donors, but numerous reports have identified the Koch family foundations and other groups linked to the fossil fuel industry as a major portion of the funding. 

The Heartland Institute responded to the NPR story in a ranting blog post full of Trump-esque language, saying NPR was “MSM,” “corrupt media,” “full of sh!t,” and “fake news,” as well as insulting the reporter who wrote the article. However, despite nitpicking with some of the wording in the NPR story, the Heartland Institute affirmed that NOAA really is hiring Legates. 

The move to employ Legates is being seen in the context of the Trump administration's rejection of climate science, most clearly in their decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. 

During a briefing on the wildfires in California on Monday, September 14, Trump said the climate “will start getting cooler, you just watch.” Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of California’s Natural Resources Agency, responded saying: “I wish science agreed with you.” To which Trump replied: “I don’t think science knows, actually.” 

This is simply not true. The science on climate change is well-established and its effects on our environment are becoming increasingly real.

"At a time when those impacts are playing out before our very eyes in the form of unprecedented wildfires out West and super-storms back East, I cannot imagine a more misguided decision than to appoint someone like Legates to a position of leadership at an agency that is tasked with assessing the risks we face from extreme weather events," Michael Mann, a leading professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, told NPR.

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