Donald Trump Picks Climate Change Denier to Head Committee on Threat of Global Warming: Scientists React

President Donald Trump in the Whie House Oval Office on February 20, 2019. The Trump administration plans to establish a committee to evaluate the threat posed by climate change national security. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Despite evidence from its own intelligence community and the Pentagon that climate change poses a threat to national security, the White House has created a panel to examine that very question, and is set to put a climate change skeptic at its helm.

According to a document obtained by TheWashington Post, the Trump administration intends to use an executive order to create a panel tasked with assessing the potential harm of climate change.

Citing a memo dated February 14, TheNew York Times reported the committee, called the the Presidential Committee on Climate Security, will consist of 12 individuals, including William Happer, who is slated to head the team. Appointed to the National Security Council as the senior director for emerging technologies, the Princeton physicist is a known climate change denier, who once compared the "demonization of carbon dioxide" to the "demonization of poor Jews under Hitler."

In 2015, Happer made news after undercover members of the environmental campaign group Greenpeace posed as oil company representatives and persuaded him to write a scientific paper, The New York Times reported. He assured them it would be an unpaid "labor of love."

Happer told the Greenpeace members, whom he believed were from an unnamed oil company: "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."

Earlier this month, Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, published an assessment warning that climate change posed a security risk. And in 2014, the Pentagon said it had started to boost its "resilience" to stem the "immediate risks" it raised.

The formation of the committee has sparked concern among climate change experts. Marshall Shepherd, Georgia Athletic Association distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and geography, told Newsweek: "Study after study from the military, bipartisan and nonpartisan organizations and the National Academy of Sciences have confirmed that climate change is a threat to national security.

"I actually served on one of the National Academy studies commissioned by the U.S. Navy, and the findings were crystal clear. To form such a committee smells of confirmation bias and contradicts military generals and admirals that have spoken clearly on this topic."

David Titley, a professor and director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennylvania State University, told Newsweek: "This is an attempt by the Trump administration to bully and silence any discussion from his own intelligence community and Pentagon on the subject of climate as a security risk.

"Humans are rapidly driving the climate system into a state we have never seen before in human civilization," Titley warned. "We are doing this rapidly and we really have not internalized its true implications."

To tackle climate change, Titley advised the administration to "actively embrace the findings of their own scientists and the findings of policy makers spanning the last three presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat.

"The ice doesn't care what this administration thinks. It's just going to keep melting and obeying the laws of physics, and no amount of denial, intimidation or bullying will change that fact," he said.

Commenting on reports that Happer would spearhead the committee, Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, described Happer as a "fringe figure" to Newsweek.

"It is truly dangerous to have someone like that having such a direct influence on the executive branch's policies on climate," Mann said. "It's remarkable to see someone who made his name as a physicist deny some of the most basic physics around—the physics that tells us that the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting increase in the greenhouse effect is responsible for the warming of the planet that we have seen, and potentially far more warming—and widespread devastating impacts—if we don't act to reduce our burning of fossil fuels."

Titley said Happer's views were "so extreme they would be considered fringe even in the climate-skeptic community."

Jan Selby, a professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex, U.K., told Newsweek: "This seems to be just another attempt by President Trump to obscure the reality of climate change, and the weight of scientific evidence on it.

"But the idea that a panel on the security implications of climate change could be headed by someone who doesn't believe in climate change is patently ridiculous. You don't need to have an A grade in logic to realize what its conclusions will be."