Trump’s climate-denying climate advisor has said some zany things

The sweet, carbonic vapors of fresh, clean coal.
The sweet, carbonic vapors of fresh, clean coal.
Image: Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS
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William Happer, a vehement climate-change denier with no formal training in climate science, holds nothing back while touting the benefits of CO2 and warning about the danger of scientists who want to curb carbon emissions.

On Wednesday (Feb. 20), the AP reported that the Trump administration tapped Happer to organize a committee to advise the president on the threats of climate change and “address existing United States Government reports on climate for scientific accuracy.”

“Happer would be a fringe figure even for climate skeptics,” David Titley, a retired US Navy rear admiral and Penn State meteorology professor, told the AP. Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb added that Happer’s “false, unscientific notions about climate change represent a danger to the American people.”

We’ve gathered some of the wackiest things Happer, a 79-year-old Princeton physicist, has said while refuting the scientific consensus that human are causing climate change.

Happer on the benefits of carbon dioxide

From his remarks at a 2015 climate summit sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation:

To call carbon dioxide a pollutant is really Orwellian. You are calling something a pollutant that we all produce. Where does that lead us eventually?

From an interview with TheBestSchools in 2016:

I believe that more CO2 is good for the world, that the world has been in a CO2 famine for many tens of millions of years and that one or two thousand ppm would be ideal for the biosphere. I am baffled at hysterical attempts to drive CO2 levels below 350 ppm [parts per million], or some other value, apparently chosen by Kabbalah numerology, not science.

(Note: According to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, our atmosphere had a CO2 concentration of 405 ppm in 2017. The last time CO2 concentrations were this high was more than 3 million years ago, when the Earth was 2–3°C warmer and the seas were 50-80 ft (15-25 meters) higher than today.)

From an interview with TheBestSchools in 2016:

What warming occurs will be mostly in temperate and polar regions, and at night. This will extend the agricultural growing season in many countries like Canada, Scandinavia, and Russia. More CO2 greatly increases the efficiency of photosynthesis in plants and makes land plants more drought-resistant. So, the net result of more CO2 will be strongly beneficial for humanity.

(Note: It’s true that average temperatures are rising much faster in the polar regions, but the consequences of that warming are felt around the world. As The Verge explains, melting ice in the arctic causes sea levels to rise, makes extreme weather more common, releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and causes the Earth to absorb more solar energy, accelerating climate change and exacerbating these ill effects.)

Happer’s skepticism of consensus

From an interview with The Guardian in 2017:

There’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult. It’s like Hare Krishna or something like that. They’re glassy-eyed and they chant. It will potentially harm the image of all science.

From an interview with TheBestSchools in 2016:

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.

(Note: Maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism about prevailing theories has always been an important piece of scientific progress. But it’s also true that 97% of climate scientists believe human activity is contributing to climate change. If you don’t buy it, NASA has compiled a list of links to scientific organizations’ statements and studies you can browse for yourself.)

From an interview with E&E News in 2018:

There is no problem from CO2. The world has lots and lots of problems, but increasing CO2 is not one of the problems. So [the Paris Climate Accords] dignifies it by getting all these yahoos who don’t know a damn thing about climate saying, ‘This is a problem, and we’re going to solve it.’ All this virtue signaling. You can read about it in the Bible: Pharisees and hypocrites and phonies.

(Note: As the Union of Concerned Scientists explains, increasing CO2 levels have contributed more to climate change than any other factor in the years since 1750. Carbon dioxide also stays in the atmosphere longer than other major heat-trapping gases. The Trump administration estimated that in the US alone, the economic impact of climate change will soar to hundreds of billions of dollars—annually—by the end of the 21st century. Changes this drastic to our climate would create, if not a problem, at least a bit of a headache.)

All the times Happer has compared climate science to historical atrocities

From an appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box in 2014:

The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.

(As a bonus, Happer also compared himself to Galileo during this interview: “When Galileo had his tiff with the Church he got a lot of flak, too.”)

From an interview with TheBestSchools in 2016:

During Stalin’s Great Terror, the equivalents of evil fossil fuel interests were Leon Trotsky and his followers. They were a direct threat to Stalin’s control of the world-wide Communist movement, just as climate skeptics are regarded as an existential threat to the global warming establishment.

From an email to a Jezebel reader in 2017:

Demonization of CO2 and people like me who come to its defense is nothing to be proud of. It really differs little from the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies, or ISIL slaughter of infidels.

And finally, we have Happer’s extended comparison of researchers concerned about humanity’s role in climate change with the judges who presided over witchcraft trials and eugenicists, from an interview with the Asbury Park Press in 2016:

They are wrong, but this is not unusual in human affairs. In 1692, sanctimonious graduates of Harvard College accused more than 200 people of witchcraft and hanged 20 of them. In the early decades of the 20th century, a large fraction of America’s best and brightest opposed ‘race suicide,’ in the words of the prominent Stanford University eugenicist, E. A. Ross. He meant the unrestrained immigration of ‘Latins, Slavs, Asiatics, and Hebrews.’ Absurd? Yes, in hindsight, but at the time the eugenics movement was fervently supported by presidents of Stanford and Harvard Universities, by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Institution and by local eugenics societies. Saving souls, saving the Anglo-Saxon race, and now saving the planet! Who would not want to be on such noble bandwagons?