Andrew Revkin on Dr. Will Happer: A Physicist And Possible Adviser To Trump Describes His Love Of Science, And CO2

Shortly before President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, his staff confirmed that he had met with two brilliant and pugnacious scientists, each said to be a candidate for the position of science adviser or director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

On Jan. 13, Trump met at Trump Tower in Manhattan with one of them, Dr. Will Happer, an emeritus Princeton University physicist variously hailed and attacked for his enthusiasm about rising levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that an overwhelming range of scientists see as a profound, if slow-motion, threat to human prospects and to nature.

As you’ll read below, even among foes of curbs on greenhouse gases, Happer is an outlier, insisting the benefits of more carbon dioxide will outweigh any harms.

Shortly after the election, two dozen scientific organizations pressed Trump in a letter to name a science adviser, at the level of assistant to the president. Phone and email contacts with the White House seeking an update on the position and any other candidates have not yet been answered.

In an hour-long Skype interview from his Princeton office on Monday, Happer offered fresh thoughts on science policy. Heis stuck by his unusual views on the benefits of global warming and the main warming gas, carbon dioxide. He insists warming will be at the lowest end of projections and is captivated by CO2’s plant-boosting properties and its implications for agricultural production. But he also expressed enthusiastic support for fresh investments in science, including climate science, and the need for greatly invigorated science education.

Happer’s own research focused on atomic physics and the interactions of light and matter and applications in optics and medical imaging. He has been a longtime member of JASON, the advisory group created during the Cold War to advise the government on defense-related science questions. He directed the Office of Science in the Department of Energy from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush.

But his sharp attacks on climate scientists have made him a popular witness at hearings convened by Republican lawmakers aiming to highlight doubts about climate change (explore his 2015 testimony at a Senate hearing and 2010 House testimony to get the idea).

As a result, he’s been a frequent target of environmental groups and scientists focused on slowing climate change. Greenpeace staff, pretending in 2015 emails to represent a Beirut company focused

Andrew Revkin: Prospects for the Climate & Environmentalism, Under President Trump

President Donald J. Trump.

Get used to the sound of that, my environment-oriented friends.

Is this end times for environmental progress or, more specifically, climate progress?


The bad news about climate change is, in a way, the good news:

The main forces determining emission levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be just as much out of President Trump’s hands as they were out of President Obama’s. The decline in the United States has mainly been due to market forces shifting electricity generation from coal to abundant and cheaper natural gas, along with environmental regulations built around the traditional basket of pollutants that even conservatives agreed were worth restricting. (Efficiency and gas-mileage standards and other factors have helped, too, of course.)

At the same time, the unrelenting rise in greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries is propelled by an unbending reality identified way back in 2005 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when he said, “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.”

At the same time, as well, other fundamental forces will continue to drive polluted China and smog-choked India to move away from unfettered coal combustion as a path to progress. An expanding middle class is already demanding cleaner air and sustainable transportation choices — just as similar forces enabled pollution cleanups in the United States in the last century.

That’s why the Paris Agreement on climate change will continue to register progress on emissions and investments in clean energy or climate resilience, but only within the limits of what nations already consider achievable (as others will be explaining in detail because the first post-Paris round of negotiations is under way right now in Marrakech).

Long ago, Jesse Ausubel, a veteran Rockefeller University analyst of global resource and environmental trends, asserted that, “in general, politicians are pulling on disconnected levers” at the intersection of energy and environmental policy.

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Andy Revkin ✔ @Revkin
In climate arena, politicians mostly pull on “disconnected levers” (Ausubel @RockefellerUniv)
7:33 AM – 16 Dec 2014 · New York, USA
13 13 Retweets 8 8 likes
As I wrote in 2014, that doesn’t mean environmental agendas by politicians are useless, and environmentalism remains vital as a result. But what approach is most workable, particularly under a Trump administration with …