Scott Pruitt’s weasel words

In his opening remarks yesterday, Trump’s pick to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt acknowledged the reality of climate change. But given his record, it’s a slick piece of rhetoric.

He said, “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”

These are classic weasel words. He’s trying to look reasonable, but his record tells us otherwise. After years of peddling doubt and denial, of fighting any kind of action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas lobby, of working as a free agent to litigate regulation, these words mean one thing to people on his team: “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

Pruitt’s statement is nonsense in the context of his record and current climate change observations and science.

  1. He doesn’t say anything about what the changes are. From record Arctic ice melt to mega droughts in Africa driving human misery and migration to record coral bleaching to 2016 smashing the previous temperature record, there’s a lot of change.
  2. He doesn’t address the rate of the changes. Look at the 2016 temperature data from the Japan Meteorological Society…
    jma-mar2016-graph
    …of this graph with running averages from Columbia…
    runningmeans
    …and you see that temperature is not only increasing, but that in recent decades the rate of increase has accelerated.
  3. Pruitt ignores how much humans have forced climate change. Humans burning fossil fuels have wrapped the earth in a thicker blanket of carbon dioxide and methane. This thicker blanket is heating the planet, changing the climate, and acidifying the ocean. How much is it human activity? Bloomberg put together an infographic showing us that it’s people. It’s not the sun. Not volcanoes. Not earth’s orbit. It’s people. His omission allows people to comfortably believe false things about.
  4. He uses uncertainty to cast doubt because the precision isn’t fleshed out. As lots of people have already shown, models have under-predicted the degree and extent of changes. As Naomi Oreskes and Michael Mann have both pointed out, scientific models have under-predicted the speed and scale of climate change impacts.
  5. Pruitt’s response omits the fact that anyone who understands rights and responsibilities knows that we have to a) decarbonize the energy sector, b) change land use so that we make land a sink instead of a seep, and c) adapt to changing conditions. So it may be technically true that there’s plenty to debate about how we decarbonize, for whom decarbonization is most important, and how to balance those goals with who pays, who is paid, and who is assisted, and to what degree are open questions. How much do we need to balance free markets and regulation in different political and cultural contexts? Reasonable questions. But that’s not what Pruitt’s doing.
  6. Finally, the “debate and dialogue” are actually “doubt and delay” canards. If someone else said it, maybe we should listen. But stated by someone who has been dishonest about climate change for his whole professional career, no one should listen.

Pruitt and the carbon cartel have gotten this far being unreasonable obstructionist. They have lied to the public. Ready for a position of power, Pruitt and Tillerson have dispensed with the overt rhetoric that climate change is a hoax because they sense they are about to be in power and only crazy people like his boss say it’s a hoax invented by the Chinese.

“Sure, climate change is real,” they say. “But we don’t have to do really anything about it. Nobody really knows. Ya’ know? Not…like…really really knows” They’re just plain wrong.

It’s the same rhetoric of the tobacco industry. “Doubt is our product.”

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