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Science? What science? Trump’s environment chief doesn’t believe it

Scott Pruitt, chosen by Donald Trump to lead an agency he sued 14 times

As Trump puts military spending ahead of the planet, the defender of America's environment denies science

Science? What science? Trump’s environment chief doesn’t believe it

Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s climate science-denying head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has claimed that human activity is not a “primary contributor” to global warming.

Pruitt, a lawyer, was asked on a TV news programme if he thought it had been proven carbon dioxide was the “primary control knob for climate”.

While the biggest input to the Earth’s temperature is obviously the sun, rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been increasing the atmosphere’s ability to trap its heat.

This is the main reason why temperatures have risen about 1C since the late 19th century.

Nasa, the UK Met Office and ever single major scientific body worldwide agrees this is true.

The process by which carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas has been understood for more than a century and can be demonstrated by a simple experiment.

However Pruitt, chosen by Trump to run an agency he made a career out of repeatedly sueing under the Obama administration, said:

“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.

“But we don’t know that yet as far as … we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

A common tactic used by climate science deniers is to try to exploit the language and nature of science to suggest global warming is simply ‘a theory’ and that there is still ‘debate’ about the issue.

It may be that Pruitt was attempting to follow this line but inadvertently overstepped into outright denial of accepted science.

Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has compared denying climate science to disputing the theory of gravity.

Even Lord Lawson’s climate-sceptic think tank in the UK, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, accepts carbon emissions have caused the Earth’s average temperature to rise.

In January, Nasa and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the latest figures showed Earth’s average surface temperature had risen by about 1.1C since the late 19th century. The UK Met Office produced similar figures based on different measurements at around the same time.

This was, the agencies said, “a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere”.

“Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001,” they added.

“Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year – from January through September, with the exception of June – were the warmest on record for those respective months.”

Pruitt’s statement comes the EPA faces cuts of up to 70% to its climate change programmes.

The Trump team aims to slice the overall budget by 25% and staffing by 20% to fund increased military spending.

All staff at a research programme, called Global Change Research, as well as 37 other programmes, would be cut under the plan.

The Trump administration forced the EPA to delete all of its pages on climate change last month.

That move came as part of a broader crackdown on postings by all agencies who track the effects of global warming on the environment.

Scientists are scrambling to save some of the most important parts of the EPA’s website before they are deleted off the internet entirely.

“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” one official said.

Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma attorney general, where he rose to prominence as a leader in coordinated efforts by Republicans to challenge President Obama’s agenda. He sued or took part in legal actions against the EPA 14 times.

Democrats and environmentalists opposed Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA due to his close relationship with fossil fuel companies and his history of casting doubt on climate change.

Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma attorney general, where he rose to prominence as a leader in coordinated efforts by Republicans to challenge President Obama’s agenda. He sued or took part in legal actions against the EPA 14 times.

Democrats and environmentalists opposed Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA due to his close relationship with fossil fuel companies and his history of casting doubt on climate change.

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