|November 23, 2016|
Donald Trump's first staff picks all deny the threat of climate change
|Ten days removed from the presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump has finally begun filling out his team, releasing a slew of offers for various high-level positions, from CIA director and attorney general to national security advisor.|
Unlike the Departments of State or the Interior, these posts have less of a direct impact on domestic and international climate and energy policy. But climate change is a problem that permeates all policy realms-especially national security.
The Department of Defense has called climate change a "threat multiplier," noting that it has the potential to exacerbate conflict and threaten national security. And in September, 25 military and national security experts-including former advisers to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush-issued a report warning that climate change poses a "significant risk to U.S. national security and international security." Middle East experts have suggested that the Syrian civil war is a contemporary example of a climate-driven conflict, one where widespread drought and crop failures helped tip the scale.
Trump, on the other hand, does not believe in the scientific consensus on climate change. He has called climate change a "hoax," and has vowed to roll back nearly every single climate policy enacted under the Obama administration, from the Clean Power Plan to the Paris climate agreement.
So it should be no surprise that, when it comes to climate change, Trump's first five advisers also reject the scientific consensus, as well as national security community's warnings, regarding the dangers of global warming.
Here's a rundown of Trump's first five staff picks, and how they stack up on climate change.
Attorney General: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has a long history of denying climate science. In 2012, during a Senate hearing on climate science, Sessions refused to accept the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists believe that climate change is both happening and is driven by humans.
In 2015, during a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed budget, Sessions grilled EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on her climate and weather knowledge, despite the fact that McCarthy is a bureaucratic administrator, not a climate scientist. Sessions then wrote McCarthy a letter claiming that "although questions regarding the impacts of climate change were clear and straightforward, none of the questions received direct answers, and many responses contained caveats and conditions." The fact that climate models are incredibly complex (a single atmospheric model can contain more than a million lines of code) doesn't seem to convince Sessions that climate models usually require some amount of "conditions" or "caveats."
In Congress, Sessions has repeatedly voted for policies that expand fossil fuel development and restrict regulations on greenhouse gases. He voted in favor of a measure that would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and has argued that carbon dioxide is not really a pollutant because it is "a plant food," and that it "doesn't harm anybody except that it might include temperature increases."
CIA Director: Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS)
In 2010, Rep. Mike Pompeo rode into Washington on the coattails of the Tea Party movement, which saw a wave of ultra-conservative representatives elected to Congress. Pompeo has deep ties to petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch: He gained most of his wealth from a firm he founded with investment funds from Koch Industries, and relied heavily on campaign donations from Koch Industries' PAC to power him through his primary and the general election.
The Koch brothers have actively disseminated misleading information about climate change for years, so perhaps it is no surprise that Pompeo chooses to deny the scientific consensus on climate change. In 2013, during an interview on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, Pompeo said he thinks "the science on climate change needs to continue to develop." He then continued by arguing, incorrectly, that there is still a great deal of debate among climate scientists about climate change (in reality, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists-97 percent of them-believe that climate change is both happening and man-made).
"There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change," Pompeo said. "There's some who think we're warming, there's some who think we're cooling, there's some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment."
In Congress, Pompeo voted to open the outer continental shelf to oil drilling, and to restrict the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, and supported Americans for Prosperity's (a Koch-backed advocacy group) pledge opposing any kind of tax on carbon. He has a 4 percent lifetime score, as a representative, from the League of Conservation Voters.
Pompeo has also been a vocal critic of the Obama administration's climate policies, lambasting the president for his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and arguing that by supporting the U.N. climate agreement, Obama was "prepared to handcuff out nation's economy for the sake of advancing his radical environmental agenda." In reality, the Paris agreement was a stellar deal for the United States, requiring minimal action for a potentially very big economic payoff. Moreover, while certainly historic, the Paris agreement was far from "radical"-most climate scientists agree that the steps outlined in the agreement would still fail to get the world below the 2°C (3.6° F) warming threshold set by the agreement.
National Security Advisor: Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn used to serve as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, until he was forced out in 2014 for allegedly being a bad manager who "left chaos in his wake," according to NBC News. Since then, he has been a loyal Trump surrogate and was even floated as a potential vice presidential candidate.
Now, it appears Flynn will be Trump's top national security advisor. And while his history of speaking on climate change is limited, it's safe to say he likely doesn't deem climate change the national security threat that the Department of Defense and multiple retired national security experts perceive it to be.
Flynn's most notable statement about climate change came this summer, in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Weeks later, Obama traveled to Canada to discuss-among other things-climate change. Flynn went on Fox News to criticize Obama's move, arguing that the president was more interested in climate change than national security.
"And here we have the President of the United States up in Canada talking about climate change," Flynn said. "I mean, God, we just had the largest attack...on our own soil in Orlando. Why aren't we talking about that? Who is talking about that? I mean, Fort Hood, Chattanooga, Boston, people forget about 9/11!"
Flynn does not seem to care that the Department of Defense has called climate change a "threat multiplier" and that prominent members of the national security community, like Dov Zakheim, who served in the Department of Defense under both Reagan and George W. Bush, have highlighted climate change as a risk to U.S. military operations.
Chief White House Strategist: Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon-who ran Trump's campaign and has been named Chief White House Strategist-is many things. He is a racist whose appointment to the White House has been cheered by the Klu Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. He is a misogynist and bigot who has called women "dykes" and ran a website that disparaged Jews and minorities.
And on top of all of that, he is a climate denier and peddler of climate conspiracy theories. Breitbart News, Bannon's conservative website, has tried to claim that climate change is a hoax created by activists, scientists, and renewable energy executives. Breitbart has published pieces calling NASA and NOAA scientists "talent-less low-lives."
Bannon himself has accused the Pope of "hysteria" on climate change. He has called for unfettered fossil fuel extraction, arguing on a radio interview that there could be an "American renaissance, and an industrial renaissance in front of us, if we can just get the government out of our way." James Delingpole, a British climate denier who Bannon recruited to write for Breitbart, told E&E News that "one of Bannon's pet peeves is the great climate change con."
Bannon has also argued that Obama's focus on climate change has come at the expense of national security-which, again, runs counter to the Department of Defense's own opinion on the matter.
White House Chief of Staff: Reince Priebus
Reince Priebus, whom Trump poached from the Republican National Committee to become his Chief of Staff, shares the opinion of others on this list that climate change is not a threat to national security.
"Democrats tell us they understand the world, but then they call climate change, not radical Islamic terrorism, the greatest threat to national security," Priebus said during the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. "Look, I think we all care about our planet, but melting icebergs aren't beheading Christians in the Middle East."
When former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) made a connection between climate change and the conflict in Syria during an interview with Bloomberg in July of 2015, Priebus called the comments "absurd" and argued that "it's abundantly clear no one in the Democratic Party has the foreign policy vision to keep America safe."
As RNC chair, Priebus oversaw an organization whose platform criticizes "Democratic party environmental extremists." It calls the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution." It rejects crucial international climate agreements, like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, and calls for shifting environmental policy from the federal level to the states.