Here’s what you need to know about the climate denier who could head a new Trump climate panel
President Donald Trump may put climate-denying physicist William Happer at the head of a new Presidential Committee on Climate Security, according to a recent Washington Post article. The proposed panel would evaluate whether climate change poses a national security threat. (It does.) Happer, an emeritus professor at Princeton University and veteran of the George H.W. Bush administration, currently serves as Trump’s deputy assistant for emerging technologies on the National Security Council.
It’s not hard to understand why Trump would pick Happer to head his panel: He’s a credentialed scientist who denies that carbon dioxide emissions are causing extensive global warming and has testified before Congress about the need for a government-mandated panel to review climate science, which he said is “far from ‘settled.’” Though he’s a physicist, Happer has never published any peer-reviewed research on climate change.
Happer has multiple connections to the Koch brothers and fossil fuel companies. He served as adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, which was founded by Charles Koch, and has been affiliated with The Heartland Institute, a climate-denial group that has received funding from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. Happer was on the board of directors at the ExxonMobil-funded George Marshall Institute, and he co-founded its successor, the CO2 Coalition. He has also disclosed that Peabody Coal paid him to testify at a hearing of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
A 2015 Greenpeace investigation exposed Happer’s willingness to work even more directly for fossil fuel companies. Corresponding over email with a Greenpeace staffer who was posing as an oil company consultant, Happer agreed to write about the alleged benefits of increased carbon emissions at the behest of a fictional Middle Eastern oil company and to not disclose the company’s payment to his group, the CO2 Coalition.
But Happer is no ordinary climate-denying, pay-for-play academic. His outrageous, false claims about climate science often include bizarre and inflammatory analogies. Here are a few of his most egregious comments.
Happer compared climate scientists and activists to Nazis, fascists, and Salem witch trial judges
Happer equated climate science with Nazi propaganda. In a 2009 interview with The Daily Princetonian, Happer asserted that climate scientists were spreading dehumanizing propaganda. He told the campus newspaper:
This is George Orwell. This is the “Germans are the master race. The Jews are the scum of the earth.” It’s that kind of propaganda.
Happer compared the “demonization of carbon dioxide” to the demonization of Jews during the Holocaust. During a 2014 appearance on CNBC, Happer doubled down when he was asked about his 2009 comments to The Daily Princetonian:
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.
He continued to make Nazi analogies, including one as recently as 2017. In an email cited in a Jezebel story, Happer wrote:
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.
Happer said climate activism is like mass hysterias that have driven fascism, communism, and Prohibition. During a 2015 interview with Conversations That Matter, a webcast news show, Happer suggested that people concerned about climate change are in the grip of mass hysteria like those who drove the temperance movement in America and fascist and communist movements in Europe:
It’s another one of these sort of mass hysterias that have gripped humanity since it began. In our country, in America, we had a sort of similar case of mass hysteria with Prohibition. There were a few cautious people who said, “Maybe, you know, Prohibition isn’t a good idea. You might increase organized crime, for example.” Everything they said was right, and yet, you know, when the amendment for Prohibition was put to the vote, every state except one, Rhode Island, voted for Prohibition and not one of them intended to honor it. It was just what everybody else did. “How could you be in favor of demon rum?” You know, demon CO2. So these things happen. More sinister are these movements in Europe: the fascists, the communists. They were mass hysteria too.
Any movement can be captured by thugs, and that’s what’s happened.
Happer compared climate scientists to the judges who presided over the Salem witch trials. During a 2017 seminar given to chemistry students at UCLA, Happer referenced the Salem witch trials after a student asked him why he held views on climate change that are contrary to majority of the scientific community. According to the Daily Bruin, he said:
At the Salem witch trials, every one of those judges had a Harvard degree. Scientific consensus is often wrong.
Happer accused people of hyping climate change to “make a buck”
Despite Happer’s own well-documented financial ties to fossil fuel companies and interests, he has questioned the financial motives of people who are concerned about climate change. During a 2014 interview on Carolina Journal Radio, Happer explained that he thinks carbon began to be demonized as a pollutant because some people thought they could make money by doing so:
I think it began to get legs in the ’70s and ’80s. There was an Academy of Science report in the ’70s by [Jule] Charney, and then it got latched on by green politicians, Al Gore comes to mind, but there are many others. So people saw a way to make a buck in demonizing CO2, and that’s what’s happened.
Happer argues that CO2 is not a pollutant, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary
Happer’s long-espoused belief that increased CO2 in the atmosphere benefits humanity rather than harms it was neatly summarized in a 2012 opinion piece he published in The Wall Street Journal. He wrote:
CO2 is not a pollutant. Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today. Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels, and because warming and other supposedly harmful effects of CO2 have been greatly exaggerated.
In a 2017 interview with journalist Andrew Revkin, Happer insisted that there’s no reason for “climate hysteria.” Revkin asked him if he sees CO2 emissions as “a non-problem” and Happer replied:
Absolutely. Not only a non-problem. I see the CO2 as good, you know. Let me be clear. I don’t think it’s a problem at all, I think it’s a good thing.
Happer has no business leading a climate change panel
Despite what Happer says, the science is clear: Human-caused CO2 emissions are the primary driver of climate change, climate change is already having negative effects in the U.S. and around the world, and its catastrophic impacts will intensify in coming years. This has been confirmed by recent major reports from teams of respected scientists at the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in the U.S. government.
Happer’s eccentric and incorrect views on climate science should disqualify him from serving on the National Security Council, not to mention a White House panel on climate change. But as long as he provides Trump with cover to engage in climate denial and justify rollbacks of environmental protections, Happer will likely continue to have a loud voice in the Trump administration — no matter how many ludicrous statements he utters.