On Monday, the US Department of Energy head, Rick Perry, went on CNBC’s Squawk Box to speak out against the near-universal scientific consensus on climate change. Perry, the former Texas governor who finished a disappointing 12th on Dancing With the Stars, said CO2 is not the main contributor to climate change and that scepticism of the scientific consensus on climate change is “quite all right”.
When asked, “Do you think CO2 is the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and for climate?” Perry, looking just as chipper as he did in his mugshot after being indicted on felony abuse of power charges, told host Joe Kernen, “No, most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”
Obviously, the oceans do, in fact, affect Earth’s surface temperature, but what does that have to do with CO2 emissions from human activity, the primary driver of modern-day climate change? Perry knew exactly the question he was being asked and gave an evasive answer. In fact, evasion was the theme of the interview.
“The fact is this shouldn’t be a debate about, ‘Is the climate changing, is man having an effect on it?’ Yeah, we are,” Perry continued, more forcefully than when he reportedly had to have to the purpose of the DOE explained to him. “The question should be just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to effect that?” he said.
On the urgent need for responsible climate policies that lessen our reliance on fossil fuels and hasten the transition to cleaner forms of energy, most of the scientific community agrees. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has done the opposite: Stalling the Clean Power Plan, which set state-by-state carbon reduction goals, and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, an international coalition to reduce carbon emissions, in order to re-energise the long-ailing coal industry.
Appropriate for a program called the Squawk Box, Perry is simply parroting the same “soft denial” rhetoric as EPA head Scott Pruitt and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. The point isn’t to outright deny that human activity causes climate change, as Trump has done, but to cast doubt on the scientific consensus by saying climate change is complex and science isn’t perfect. Both are fair points. But this cabal of deniers twists that, implying climate change is so complex and the science so imprecise that we should reject the consensus that human carbon emissions are warming the atmosphere, and question scientists’ calls for more stringent emissions regulations to keep the damage to a minimum.
And here’s the cherry on top.
During the interview, Perry said, “This idea that science is just absolutely settled and if you don’t believe it’s settled then somehow you’re another neanderthal, that is so inappropriate from my perspective.”
Folks, climate denial is not a difference in opinion. Perry et. al want to reframe climate change as an episode of Sesame Street. We all may have different opinions, but let’s all play nice and be respectful. Nonsense. One doesn’t debate the laws of physics. Cataclysmic sea level rise is already swallowing people’s homes and forcing them to migrate. Record droughts are causing global food shortages.
It’s perfectly reasonable to be alarmed by this, and it’s perfectly appropriate to call out people who want to couch the basic premise of climate change in terms of a “debate” as it endangers us all.