White House Panel Will Study Whether Climate Change Is a National Security Threat. It Includes a Climate Denialist.
WASHINGTON — President Trump is preparing to establish a panel to examine how climate change affects national security, and will include a White House adviser whose views are sharply at odds with the established scientific consensus that human-caused global warming poses a threat to the nation’s economy, health and security.
According to a White House memo dated Feb. 14, Mr. Trump’s staff members have drafted an executive order to create a 12-member Presidential Committee on Climate Security that will advise Mr. Trump about “how a changing climate could affect the security of the United States.” The memo was first reported by The Washington Post.
The panel would include William Happer, a Princeton physicist who serves as Mr. Trump’s deputy assistant for emerging technologies. Dr. Happer has gained notoriety in the scientific community for his statements that carbon dioxide — the greenhouse gas that scientists say is trapping heat and warming the planet — is beneficial to humanity.
The efforts to establish the panel come in the wake of multiple new comprehensive reports concluding that the warming planet poses clear and specific risks to national security. The inclusion of Dr. Happer suggests the efforts may be the latest step by the Trump administration to play down or distort the established scientific consensus on the impact of climate change.
A spokesman for the National Security Council, which is leading the panel’s formation, declined to comment on the record.
“We welcome a rigorous independent panel with credible climate and security experts to study the security implications of climate change — but this is not that,” said Francesco Femia, a founder of The Center for Climate and Security, a research organization that focuses on the national security effects of climate change. “The proposed committee is supposed to provide a so-called ‘adversarial review’ of already rigorous reports from science agencies, intelligence agencies, and the Defense Department.”
He asserted that Dr. Happer’s role meant the panel would “neither be independent or rigorous.”
In 2015, Dr. Happer was called to testify before a Senate Committee after the environmental group Greenpeace revealed that he agreed to write a scientific paper at the request of an unnamed oil and gas company in the Middle East.
In his email exchanges with Greenpeace, Dr. Happer wrote, “More CO2 will benefit the world. The only way to limit CO2 would be to stop using fossil fuels, which I think would be a profoundly immoral and irrational policy.”
Dr. Happer suggested to the purported funders that he not be paid directly. “My activities to push back against climate extremism are a labor of love,” he wrote.
The White House memo notes that multiple scientific and defense reports have recently concluded that climate change poses a significant threat to national security, but it casts doubt on those reports, saying, “these scientific and national security judgments have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security.”
Earlier this month, the director of national intelligence released its 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, which concluded that “Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond. Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.”
The report listed specific threats posed by climate change, such as the threat of rising sea levels to the safety of low-lying military installations and the likelihood that increased drought and flooding could lead to mass human displacement and increased conflict. The report concluded that climate-driven food shortages could increase “the risk of social unrest, migration, and interstate tension in countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq and Jordan.”
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