Scott Pruitt’s Climate “Debates” Are Another Assault on Climate Research and the Scientific Method


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Superstorms are additional evidence of climate change. (Photo: Mike Trenchard)

On June 30, Climatewire reported that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt had launched a government initiative “to challenge mainstream climate science” using military inspired “red-team, blue-team debates” on climate change.

According to a senior administration official,

The administrator (Pruitt) believes that we will be able to recruit the best in the fields which study climate and will organize a specific process in which these individuals … provide back-and-forth critique of specific new reports on climate science

We are in fact very excited about this initiative…. Climate science, like other fields of science, is constantly changing. A new, fresh and transparent evaluation is something everyone should support doing.

Pruitt said he was moved to call for such debates after reading published articles by physicist Steve Koonin in the Wall Street Journal and climate change “skeptic” Brett Stephens in The New York Times, advocating more debate on climate. In an interview with Breitbart, Pruitt said, “The American people need to have that type of honest, open discussion, and it’s something we hope to provide as part of our leadership.” Pruitt told Reuters that it would be good to hold the debate on TV so it’s “open to the world” and that the American people “deserve it.”

Well, let’s assess Pruitt’s call for “open debate and discussion” on climate science. First of all, what’s the context, and what has Pruitt been doing? Already, Trump — with Pruitt’s help — has pulled the US out of the Paris climate accords, moved against the Clean Power Plan, proposed huge slashes to climate change research, let go of EPA science advisers and proposed eliminating positions and departments carrying on crucial research, etc. If Pruitt is so interested in open and honest debate, why has he been the front man for an assault on climate science and scientists, and an attempt to eliminate information garnered by climatologists from reaching people via government websites?

Pruitt has built his whole career on attacking environmental regulations as a toady for large fossil fuel interests, and has “questioned” human-caused climate change, saying he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is a prime contributor to it. Now we are supposed to believe he and his science-gutted EPA should be trusted to host hard-hitting scientific debates revealing climate truths.

But two things need to be said.

First, there is no actual scientific debate over the existence of climate change and the fact that human activity is a primary driver of it.

Thousands of scientific studies have been done over decades and have documented not just that climate change is occurring, but how it is occurring, and why greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere as a result of human activity is a main cause. Mountains of evidence have been accumulated on how climate is changing — from temperature records and measurements, to glacial and polar ice melt changes, to the rise in sea level and increase in incidence of powerful storms. Much remains to be learned about many aspects of how climate change is unfolding and affecting various natural systems, the pace of it and how it will develop as things go forward. There is uncertainty and great scientific debate over many topics related to this, but there is no actual scientific debate over whether it’s occurring or whether human activity is largely the cause of it. On this, there is scientific consensus. As has been stated many times, 97 percent of actual climate scientists who study and have published on the matter agree human activity is causing global warming.

Trying to sponsor debate over something that mountains of evidence, multiple lines of inquiry, and established scientific consensus has already settled the question on, is not real scientific debate. It’s an attempt to introduce doubt about cause into a situation where the cause has already been established.

Imagine if at the time of the 1918 global flu pandemic, some doctors had come forward to argue against the germ theory of disease, and said, “Whether germs cause disease is uncertain. We think there should be a grand debate over whether germs are the cause of this pandemic, or whether it is ‘miasma’” (bad air arising from rotting organic matter, the disproved and previously dominant view). And therefore, they argued, maybe it wasn’t necessary to take measures to keep people from interacting in large crowds or schools where the disease was present, only to keep them from sniffing air around rotting organic piles.

It’s not hard to see fostering “debate” over scientific truths already proven by experiment and evidence to be true, is not only bad science, it can do great harm, as well as undermining the process of getting at the truth. This is certainly no less true about climate change — which is impacting the entire future of life on Earth — than the 1918 flu.

To take the analogy further, one might argue, too, that in Pruitt’s case, given his subservience for years to fossil fuel interests, it would be like if these miasma doctors not only were quacks, but also had ties with business interests peddling chambers to put over organic matter to contain the “bad air.”

Secondly, Pruitt’s debate call just hides ulterior political motive seeking the cover of science. The actual political motive here is not about hosting honest scientific debate, but further attacking climate research and the scientific method. Pruitt’s actual purpose is an attempt to sow more confusion about whether climate change is dangerous and human-caused, and whether anything should be done about it. It is part of laying further justification for the Trumpian assault on Paris and rules limiting fossil fuel emissions. It’s also part of trying to establish a greater legal framework for destruction of limits on fossil fuel expansions — such as Trump’s opening the way for exploitation of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and a possible attack on the endangerment finding — an EPA ruling in 2009 that greenhouse gases are a pollutant and endanger public health, used under Obama to put certain modest limits on greenhouse emissions.

Even more, this initiative would try to undermine science’s peer-review process through which studies are examined and vetted by actual scientists with knowledge in the fields that are being researched. Pruitt would delegitimize the peer-review process in favor of a political process where the views of a few (frankly bone-headed climate deniers or “skeptics”) are made equivalent with the views of actual experts in climate — and subjected to a TV debate run by a fascist regime that is antithetical to protecting the environment, humans and science.

And as mentioned, this planned “debate” Pruitt hopes to sponsor is simultaneous and connected with real suppression by Trump’s government on climate research, as well as an attempt to gut environmental regulations of all kinds. Kind of like if the Inquisition had launched debates on an Earth-centric vs. heliocentric solar system to undermine Galileo, while sanctioning him for heresy.

There is a process here, too, that can get going with the Trump regime, where denying certain proven truths and attacking the scientific method and science on climate change opens the way for further absurdities and horrors.

The Pruitt “climate debate initiative” should be seen for what it is: an assault on truth and the scientific method. And it’s in sync with both an attempt to open up unparalleled plunder and assault on the natural world to expand gluttonous profit-making for big oil interests, and also to move to implementing a fascist shut-down of people’s ability to have a method to really learn about and understand reality.

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf Oil Spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis, and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics. His blog is

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