Donald Trump does U-turn on biggest U-turn, appointing climate change denier as environmental chief

Call it a W-turn

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 08 December 2016 09:55
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tours the Flint water plant on September 14, 2016 in Flint, Michigan
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tours the Flint water plant on September 14, 2016 in Flint, Michigan

Donald Trump, who many thought had recanted his previous denial of the facts of climate change, in fact appears committed to his belief that humans are not causing global warming.

Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by the Chinese. He made little reference to environmental initiatives in his policy statements and appeared committed to a belief that global warming isn’t real.

But he appeared to make a U-turn in a widely reported interview with the New York Times. In that interview he suggested that there is “some connectivity” between humans and climate change, in a remark that was taken to suggest that he might be changing his mind.

Trump's EPA pick condemns Obama's conservation policy

He also met with prominent environmentalists including Al Gore, which was also taken as a suggestion that he was softening his denial of human-caused climate change.

And he suggested that he would not withdraw from the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, criticism of which had been central to his Presidential campaign. “I’m looking at it very closely,” he said, saying that he has “an open mind to it”.

But President-elect Donald Trump’s first appointments suggest that he is still interested in denying climate change and appears to be working to destroy the agencies the US has in place to deal with it.

Mr Trump’s pick for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is Scott Pruitt, a lawyer who in the past has attempted to destroy that very agency and has argued that people should talk more about whether humans have anything to do with climate change and whether it is even happening at all.

In an opinion article published earlier this year by National Review, Pruitt suggested that the debate over global warming "is far from settled" and claimed "scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind."

According to NASA, 97 percent of the world's climate scientists agree that the planet is getting hotter and that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause. Ten of the warmest years in history have occurred in the past 12, with 2016 on pace to be the hottest recorded. Studies show the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass, while the world's oceans have risen on average nearly 7 inches in the last century.

Ken Cook, the head of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington DC research and advocacy organisation, told the New York Times that it is a “safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile E.P.A. administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history”.


Bernie Sanders also criticised the appointment. “Mr. Pruitt's record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels,” he said.

But the Trump team has said that Mr Pruitt has a “good record”.

"We're very accustomed to the naysayers and the critics," Conway said as she left Trump tower on Wednesday evening, apparently confirming the choice. "Attorney General Pruitt has great qualifications and a good record. ... We look forward to the confirmation hearings."

Mining and oil companies have hailed the appointment.

"Scott Pruitt is a businessman and public servant and understands the impact regulation and legislation have in the business world," said Jeffrey McDougall, an oilman who serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. "His appointment will put rational and reasonable regulation at the forefront."

There were hints that Mr Trump’s apparent recognition of global warming wasn’t actually personally held, in the same New York Times interview that he first made the suggestion. He said that dealing with climate change’s effects would depend on him thinking about “how much it will cost our companies” and that he may not pursue environmental policies for fear of it affecting American competitiveness.

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