C: Gage Skidmore
C: Gage Skidmore

“The arsonist is now in charge of the fire department, and he seems happy to let the climate crisis burn out of control”.

That was the view yesterday of the Sierra Club, after Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, made one of his clearest denial statements regarding climate change.

Pruitt sparked outrage yesterday when he told the program “Squawk Box” that he did not think humans were a primary cause of climate change: ‘‘I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.’’ He continued. ‘‘We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.’’

Denial, doubt and delay come straight of the tobacco industry’s playbook. Pruitt might as well have taken a cigarette and blown smoke at the camera and said: “Smoking is good for you”.

If Pruitt’s climate denial was not so serious it would be laughable. Essentially the US’s top environmental official does not believe decades of evidence and thousands of peer reviewed science as well as daily evidence that the climate is changing around us. But then he has probably never read a peer-reviewed article in his life, but gets his evidence from Breitbart or Fox News.

It is not surprising that Pruitt’s comments were met with a hail of contempt and derision. GQ magazine simply called Pruitt “a Dangerous, Science-Denying Buffoon.” Another commentator argued Pruitt is a “clear and present danger to American national security”.

Robinson Meyer, writing in the The Atlantic, added: “Pruitt’s claim runs so counter to the findings of the international scientific community, to the conclusions of the U.S. government, and even to the marketing materials of the oil-and-gas industry that it is difficult to label it anything but a falsehood.”

He pointed out that even the oil companies, which for decades led the climate denial campaign admit climate change. Indeed the Guardian pointed out the other day that Shell was making videos warning of the dangers of global warming in 1991.

Chris Mooney continued in the same vein in the Washington Post pointing out: “Pruitt’s statements fly in the face of the international scientific consensus on climate change, and they also contradict the agency that Pruitt heads. The EPA’s ‘‘Climate Change’ website states the following:

‘‘Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming.’’

Indeed, Pruitt’s predecessors at the EPA were highly critical. “The time for debate on climate change has passed,” Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s first EPA administrator and now at Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple, told the Post.

Pruitt’s other predecessor at the EPA, Gina McCarthy added: “The world of science is about empirical evidence, not beliefs. When it comes to climate change, the evidence is robust and overwhelmingly clear that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high. Preventing the greatest consequences of climate change is imperative to the health and well-being of all of us who call Earth home.’’ She continued: “‘I cannot imagine what additional information the Administrator might want from scientists for him to understand that.’’

Some politicians weighed in two: Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, co-chair of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, said Pruitt’s comments were “extreme” and “irresponsible.” He said: “Anyone who denies over a century’s worth of established science and basic facts is unqualified to be the administrator of the EPA. Now more than ever, the Senate needs to stand up to Scott Pruitt and his dangerous views”.

California Sen. Kamala Harris also had a tweet for Pruitt: “It’s telling when you’re at odds with @NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and science generally.”

Scientists were up in arms as well: “Pruitt has demonstrated that he is unqualified to run the EPA or any agency,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “There is no doubt whatsoever that the planet is warming and it is primarily due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels.”

Ben Santer, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, added: “The scientific community has studied this issue for decades. The consensus message from many national and international assessments of the science is pretty simple: Natural factors can’t explain the size or patterns of observed warming.”

Environmentalists were equally outraged. Pruitt’s comment were “nothing short of an atrocity,” said Aura Vasquez, director of Climate Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy “Denying the science of this reality will impact millions of people on the front lines of a dangerously changing climate, especially low-income communities and communities of color,” she said.

“The mask is off,” said David Doniger, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “After obscuring his true views during his Senate confirmation hearings, Scott Pruitt has outed himself as a pure climate denier.”

It is not surprising therefore that the Sierra Club has now called on Pruitt to resign, not only because of his comments but also because Pruitt lied before Congress.

“Pruitt is endangering our families, and any sensible Senator should demand he is removed from his position immediately for misleading Congress and being unfit and unwilling to do the job he has been entrusted to do,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

But it gets worse. The whole EPA is likely to be one large denial agency soon. As the New York Times reported this week, Pruitt “has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business.”

In doing so, the Times reports, Pruitt “has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science.”

Inhofe’s former chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, will be Pruitt’s chief of staff. Jackson’s deputy is Byron Brown, another Inhofe staffer. And Andrew Wheeler, a fossil fuel lobbyist and another former Inhofe chief of staff, is the finalist to be Pruitt’s deputy, although this still needs confirmation by the Senate. Two Trump campaigners from Washington State, Don Benton, and Douglas Ericksen, are also looking like getting posts.

Finally, the EPA’s scientific advisory panel could soon be made up of representatives of the fossil fuel industry and rely on far fewer academic studies, furthering the assault on climate science and the environment. As Buzzfeed reported yesterday “the House Science Committee passed two bills to Congress … One bill would change EPA’s scientific advisory panel to bar academic scientists who had received study grants from the environmental agency. The other would allow critics to see previously proprietary data in studies weighed by the agency in deciding pollution rules.”

Both bills, if passed by Congress, would be disastrous. “These bills just look like ways to inject more doubt into that scientific assessment and gum things up,” administrative law expert Sidney Shapiro of Wake Forest University told BuzzFeed.

Doubt, Denial, Delay. It’s the tobacco playbook all over again. In Scott Pruitt’s world smoking is good for you and the world is flat.