It’s no surprise that the incumbent governor of Oklahoma—one of the largest fossil fuel energy producers in the US—hasn’t been an advocate for the EPA, which he’s now been appointed to lead.
But it’s neither entirely accurate nor pragmatic to dismiss a character like Scott Pruitt as a ‘climate change sceptic’. Characters like Pruitt and Trump—whatever they say—are just politicking. They’re appealing to the immediate concerns of voters in oil-producing states or the industrial heartlands associated with them. They’re prioritising short-term risks over long-term risks, for political expediency.
As Pruitt stressed in his 2015 interview with the FT, his ire against the EPA was: ‘because they infringed on states’ rights as enshrined in the law, not because of any beliefs about climate change’. When reminded of the state of climate scientists’ consensus on anthropogenic climate change, Pruitt replied: ‘Where does that fit with the statutory framework? That’s not material at all. So that’s why I don’t focus on it.’
There are dozens of rebuttals of Cook et al’s (e.g. 2016) 97% consensus claim by angry journalists in the mainstream press, bloggers, expert commentators and ‘expert’ commentators, but not in the peer-edited journals. The reality is, climate change sceptics are mostly lay conservatives with no office, no educational background in the sciences, and whose foghorn armchair outbursts are based on nothing more than wishing to be left alone. The world’s become a far more comfortable place for them, too, with the advent of the post-truth age, in which they perceive experts as nuisance callers trying to rob them of their received wisdom.
And although this constituency’s a valuable political asset for the Trump Administration to pursue its ‘economy first’ agenda, there’s no evidence that key figures in the Administration actually belong to it. The sane left are sacrificing airtime with straw man arguments over ‘climate sceptics’, rather than engaging in a more cerebral and penetrating effort to influence the calculus of the Administration’s policy; we cannot ignore the political reality that the industrial heartlands and their advocates need the carrot of viable economic policy alternatives for today, not just the stick of armageddon tomorrow. This is, at least, an Administration that has the will to invest in infrastructure — we need to see powerful and relentless commercial cases to direct that investment to projects that address both the short- and long-term challenges.
As for those who genuinely refute the scientific consensus on climate change in favour of homespun theories about the weather, why not add some makeshift ideas about infectious diseases and space flight?