Moonstruck: Climate science denier Harrison Schmitt, appointed to head NM environment agency, believes enviros and scientists like Holdren are communists

“New Mexico’s Supreme Court ordered the state records administrator yesterday to publish a rule establishing a statewide cap on emissions,” as E&E News (subs. req’d) reported today.  That should be good news in a state that faces a grim future “” brutal heat waves, massive wildfires, permanent Dust Bowls “” in a world of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (see “U.S. southwest could see a 60-year drought like that of 12th century “” only hotter “” this century” and below).  Indeed, the state’s own Sandia National Laboratory analyzed projected rainfall patterns from climate change and found “over the next 40 years, New Mexico’s economic contribution to the U.S. economy could drop by $26 billion.”

But newly elected NM Gov. Susana Martinez (R) is dead set against the emissions cap.  Worse, as noted earlier this month, she picked climate denier Harrison Schmitt to run “the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, which oversees all environmental matters” in the state.  Schmitt believes mainstream climate science is a conspiracy “to increase government control.”

Now it turns out former astronaut Schmitt is even more of a climate crackpot than first thought.  As ThinkProgress reports (with a jaw-dropping audio):

Schmitt, a retired astronaut and former U.S. Senator, has said he believes the leaders of the environmental movement are communists, and that when these communist environmentalists are appointed to government positions, citizens need to “wake up” and “take control of their government again.” The New Mexico Independent has flagged this interview Schmitt gave to crank radio host Alex Jones in 2009:

SCHMITT: Number one we’ve been concerned with the misuse of science, but I think more fundamentally, this misuse of science has lead to politicians and ideologues to try to gain control of the American economy, and indeed the global economy, by scaring people“¦. I think that there are individuals, [Obama science czar John] Holdren apparently among them, a very large number who have taken “” shall we say captured the environmental movement and turned it into what was previously considered the communist movement. And that’s just something that people of common sense are going to continue to have to counter and wake up enough so that they can take control of their government again. […]

I think the whole trend really began with the fall of the Soviet Union. Because the great champion of the opponents of liberty, namely communism, had to find some other place to go and they basically went into the environmental movement. That’s not to say there aren’t some major and significant environmental issues, particularly at the local level, but they converted environmental activism to a political movement and some would say a religious movement.

Schmitt also engaged in extensive denials of climate change science, and claimed that there has been steady warming of the Earth every year since 1660. Presenting his evidence, Schmitt said, “If you want to read some of the history of the American Revolutionary War, you will realize how damn cold it was back then. And we were just moving out of the little ice age very slowly, and it was very cold.”

Martinez’s appointment of Schmitt to oversee New Mexico’s environmental matters is nothing short of shocking. The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department is charged with “mak[ing] our state a leader in developing reliable supplies of energy, and energy efficient technologies and practices, with a balanced approach toward conserving our renewable and non-renewable resources” and aims to “protect the environment and ensure responsible reclamation of land and resources affected by mineral extraction.” Martinez said she wants Schmitt’s first order of business to be reviewing regulations on oil companies put in place by her predecessor, former Gov. Bill Richardson (D).

What follows is an excerpt from my earlier post.

Equally bizarre, Schmitt has little evident energy experience “” except in one area.  He is an adjunct professor of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but as his website there reveals, his expertise is in what may be the single most impractical idea ever proposed for generating energy on a significant scale for humanity in your lifetime (no matter what your age):

Professor Schmitt is a consultant engaged in research with the Fusion Technology Institute on the utilization of resources from space, including the feasibility of using helium-3 from the moon to supply energy on Earth.

It is famously said about fusion that it is 50 years away and always will be.  That goes double if we need to get the stuff to run the reactors from the moon!  The only thing harder to believe than planning to build a fusion economy around extracting helium-3 from the moon is listing that on your academic website as your primary consulting activity.

Then there is Schmitt’s absurd resignation The Planetary Society (TPS).  As you can see in its innocuous if overly optimistic “Roadmap for Human Space Exploration in the 21st Century,” TPS lists as one of its recommendations, “There is an imperative to begin an aggressive campaign to understand global climate change and to address the challenges facing planet Earth.”

Just research, no action.  Pretty harmless stuff.  But Schmitt writes:

As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a “consensus” that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. “Consensus”, as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the “global warming scare” is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society’s activities.

Aside from the fact that the leading earth scientists from around the world and every single member government agreed the year before that warming of the Earth’s climate is “unequivocal,” TPS didn’t actually “tie this objective to a ‘consensus’ that humans are causing global warming.”  Schmitt apparently only skimmed the document once he saw the offensive phrase.  Here is what TPS wrote:

Concurrent with the restructured initiative for international human space exploration, the United States must begin an aggressive campaign to understand global climate change and address the challenges facing planet Earth. Although it is not the subject of this document, broad consensus has emerged that Earth science research has been undervalued in the NASA portfolio in recent years and must be augmented, both in terms of budget and as an element of national space policy”¦.

Seriously, that’s the entire ‘consensus’ TPS was talking about “that Earth science research has been undervalued in the NASA portfolio in recent years and must be augmented.”  Extremists!

Schmitt is a hard-core denier, as this Santa Fe New Mexican article makes clear:

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, one of the last men to walk on the moon and a former U.S. senator from New Mexico, doesn’t buy the idea that humans are causing global warming.

“I don’t think the human effect is significant compared to the natural effect,” he said.

Schmitt, who is among 70 skeptics scheduled speak at an international conference next month, admitted his beliefs fly in the face of the political consensus that burning fossil fuels has increased carbon-dioxide levels, temperatures and sea levels.

Memo to reporter:  It is a scientific understanding, not a “political consensus.”

In a Saturday interview, Schmitt expounded on what he called “indisputable facts” that global warming is the result of natural, rather than man-made, causes. He said historical documents indicate average temperatures have risen by 1 degree per century since around 1400 A.D., and the rise in carbon dioxide is because of the temperature rise”¦.

“In Antarctica, it looks like the total volume (of ice) is increasing and if that’s true, that’s probably why you’re getting increased ice moving away from the center of the continent and therefore these big icebergs and stuff are breaking off,” he said.

Although Greenland’s glaciers receded for decades, Schmitt said, they began advancing again around 2005.

Of course, this is all just non-stop nonsense.  Carbon dioxide is rising because of human emissions.  That is pretty much an undisputed fact.  Schmitt mixed up his denier talking points on this one (see Cook: “When someone mentions to you that CO2 lags temperature, remind them they’re actually invoking evidence for a positive feedback that further increases global warming by an extra 15 to 78%”).

The total volume of Antarctic ice has been declining.  Schmitt probably means Antarctic sea ice, but in that case he should get his denier talking points straight.  Same for Greenland, which has continued to see ice loss.  Again, Schmitt can’t quite get his talking points straight.

What is it about walking on the moon that makes people say such strange things about climate?  (see Sorry, Buzz Aldrin, we’re not sending people to Mars by 2029 to “homestead” or study “climate change”).  Perhaps these folks get moonstruck.

Sadly for New Mexico, climate denial and failure to adopt sensible low-carbon policies risks multiple catastrophic consequences, which could well combine to depopulate the state in the second half of the century, as the study by NM’s Sandia concluded.

Back in 2007, Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” “” levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California.  This year, the National Center for Atmospheric Research warned that by mid-century, New Mexico faces a drought index worse than that of the 1930s dust bowl [click to enlarge, details here]

drought map 3 2060-2069

The maps use a common measure, the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which assigns positive numbers when conditions are unusually wet for a particular region, and negative numbers when conditions are unusually dry. A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”¦.”

The PDSI in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).  So the numbers projected by NCAR are beyond catastrophic for New Mexico by the 2060s.

26 Responses to Moonstruck: Climate science denier Harrison Schmitt, appointed to head NM environment agency, believes enviros and scientists like Holdren are communists

  1. LucAstro says:

    I’d like to know what is the scientific background of Schmitt? How long did he study?

  2. paulm says:

    And he would be a…..

    Climate Warming striking the very infrastructure of developed counties…this is gong to be an ongoing thing now. We better start planning seriously on the effects….
    Ms Gillard says the Government will also delay or cut infrastructure projects to pay for rebuilding efforts in Queensland and other states hit by damaging floods this summer.

  3. paulm says:

    Volkswagen unveils sleek new car that does an incredible 313 miles to the gallon

    Read more:

  4. Peter M says:

    In a few short decades most of NM will not be habitable- except for elevations above 5K- and even there drought will be a problem.

    Seems like the GOP is taking a huge risk that Hansen is wrong- seems like a weak hope.

  5. Leif says:

    While in Greenland a NEW MELT RECORD is logged. Melt season ~50 days longer than past average.

  6. pete best says:

    Science dont seem to mattr much to normal people now does it. You can tell this from the medias attitude to it especially here in the UK where the media is run by humanaities students who speak well, love life but dont get science at all!

    I just do not see anyone getting around to tackling ACC in time, after all its already killed people.

  7. Chris Winter says:

    “Schmitt is a hard-core denier, as this Santa Fe New Mexican article makes clear.”

    A more recent example is his long, rambling discourse on geological history in the Tucson Citizen 17 July, 2010.

    It includes a number of Denialist talking points and ends with a warning against “unconstitutional coercion” on the part of the federal government.

    DeSmogBlog reports he was associated with the Annapolis Center:

    “From 1994 to 1998, Harrison Schmitt served as chairman and president of the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy. Currently, he serves as a chairman emeritus.

    “Apart from denying the existence of man-made global warming, the Annapolis Center has also spent considerable effort calling into question the link between air pollution and asthma, the impacts of mercury pollution, and the dangers of pesticide residue on food.

    “Since 1998, ExxonMobil has given $973,500 to the Annapolis Center. In 2004, at the centre’s annual dinner, it honoured Senator James Inhofe for his work in ‘promoting science-based public policy.’ ”

  8. Thedore says:

    Maybe the house should revive the Un-American Activities Committee. They could make lists of the nasty scientists and their subversive sympathisers.

    “Are you now, or have you ever been an environmentalist?”

    “We have documented proof that you were once a member of the Green Party.”

    “We have tax records that show you were employed by a solar energy company!”

    “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

  9. Mike Lizzi says:

    I have been told that a warmer climate leads to more evaporation which leads to more precipitation. Yet, when I look at the dryness distribution map, 2060 – 2069, I see more area getting drier than wetter. (Maps like this exaggerate the size of the polar latitudes. Alaska, Canada and Siberia are not really that big.)

    Even considering the implication that the current and extra precipitation will be concentrated in a smaller area, this map seems to me to be predicting less total precipitation globally than more.

    I’m open to the possibility that I have misunderstood something. But the deniers are going to have a field day with the article.

  10. J Bowers says:

    Re. Theodore

    ‘Lysenkarthyism’ (it’s easy to figure out)

  11. I think the whole trend really began with the fall of the Soviet Union…

    because people looking for conspiracies had to find new targets. You have to have someone to hate.

  12. Whew! — for a while I thought he was speaking out against ‘commoners’ or ‘communalism’

    Gotta be careful speaking. Some words sound alike.

    There is a big difference between an astronaut and an astronought

  13. Michael Tucker says:

    Schmitt is a sad joke. Making incorrect unsupported claims about the temperature record is standard fair for many of the deniers who have science backgrounds. It doesn’t matter what his education was. Don’t we all know of some well educated climate scientists who regularly question global climate disruption? However, his Bircheresque conspiracy nonsense lets us know that Schmitt has a very tenuous grasp on reality.

    If he cannot back up his ‘theories’ about anthropogenic climate disruption he should be ignored. I understand the folks in NM don’t have the luxury to ignore Schmitt but they have only themselves to blame for electing Martinez governor.

    Oh, if the water vapor were homogenously distributed throughout the atmosphere it would be a different story; but it isn’t. We saw prolonged drought in Russia while Pakistan suffered horrendous floods. The northeast US is having a cold snowy winter while the desert southwest is fairly warm and dry. How is the freshwater situation going for Atlanta? They have some very tough choices to make. We have historic flooding in Australia while, RIGHT NOW, China is suffering a drought that threatens the winter wheat crop. Excess precipitation in one place means drought somewhere else.

  14. PSU Grad says:

    @ Thedore #8

    “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

    “Here’s a copy of my DD-214. Now show me yours.” For those who don’t know, a DD-214 is a US military active duty discharge form. Let some poor SOB just try to compare me to a communist, just once. And pity the poor soul if the accusing SOB doesn’t have his/her own DD-214.

  15. catman306 says:

    Early life and education

    Born in Santa Rita, New Mexico, Schmitt grew up in nearby Silver City.[2] He received a B.S. degree in science from the California Institute of Technology in 1957 and then spent a year for graduate studying geology at the University of Oslo in Norway.[2][3] He received a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard University in 1964, based on his geological field studies in Norway.[2]

    PSU Grad, I’ve got a DD-214, too. I know just what you mean.

  16. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #9: From the physics (Clausius-Clapeyron equation), each degree C of temperature increase results in a 7% increase in water vapor in the atmosphere. This is a global average, and will vary considerably in time and space. There is an associated increase in overall precipitation, but it’s much smaller. The larger effects are an increase in intense precipitation events (big storms get bigger), an increase in evapotranspiration (water vapor being pulled out of the ground by the warmer air) and drought. The drought increase may seem counter-intuitive, but results from evapotranpiration exceeding precipitation in a given location, which is to say the big drys get drier. Australia’s experience in the last ten years or so is a case study in these effects.

    Warmer air expands, so another effect of atmospheric heating is the expansion of the tropics (up and out), which has the effect of compressing the entire atmospheric circulation toward the poles (albeit unevenly due to the uneven distribution of continents, mountains and oceans). A major aspect of this is the poleward movement of the downwelling zones of the Hadley cells. These subtropical regions are where most of the major deserts are found since the downwelled air is dry. Unfortunately, an awful lot of prime agricultural land is located in the temperate zones just poleward of the subtropics. To quote the late, great Richard Pryor, “We in trouble.”

  17. William Geoghegan says:

    Thank you for posting this information. I have written my state senator, Peter Wirth, and sent a letter to the editor of the New Mexican opposing the confirmation of Mr Schmitt. New Mexico needs rational unbiased thinkers in our top positions not people like Mr. Schmitt.

  18. Dave says:

    The problem with most of these climate deniers is that they are making money denying. How can we possible reason with people who have a vested interest in lying to the public. The sad truth is even as we reach peak oil production, deniers will still promote business as usual. Here is a cool doc about peak oil!

  19. Karen S. says:

    I have a question that’s obliquely related, and it’s probably just rhetorical. But I have recently encountered a disturbing (and effective) tactic for silencing dissenting comments on the web. When a known climate denier who is associated with Marc Morano and who claims to be a noted astrophysicist but who can’t demonstrate that he’s published a thing in 40 years due to not pursuing his career, threatens to sue another scientist who has “debunked” him in a blog using referenced materials that, so far as I can tell, are not false, would the denier have a libel case? This guy’s using threat of lawsuit to silence comments on a page that is not his, but that belongs to a writer with a wide audience. He’s in that grey area between private citizen and public figure, but he’s a bully who has all but hijacked the comments section.

    After the latest threat I looked up defamation and libel, and though I’m no legal expert, found that people who push themselves into the public arena as this guy does probably qualify as “limited public figures” which could nullify a claim. Anyway, it’s a reprehensible bully tactic that’s new to me–sort of an individual SLAPP suit. Is anyone aware of such things elsewhere?

  20. Villabolo says:

    There may be an answer here.

  21. chris says:

    His Lordship on communists taking over the environmental movement. Go to 1:24

    I don’t know if this will help but I’ll bet a lot of people in NM would be horrified to know that Mr. Schmitt is a follower of “Mrs. Thatcher’s science advisor.”

  22. caerbannog says:

    Someone should get in Schmitt’s face in a very public forum and accuse him of helping NASA to fake those moon-landings. When he reacts with predictable outrage, the response should be, “Now you know how climate-scientists feel!”

  23. Bryanna says:

    Stumbled on your web blog through Delicious. You know I am subscribing to your feed.

  24. Bob Doublin says:

    #22 That is such a brilliant idea.

  25. J Bowers says:

    Desmog reports:

    “New Mexico’s Supreme Court Overrules Climate Skeptic Governor: Greenhouse Gases Will Be Regulated”

  26. Karen S. says:

    Several years ago I had the great privilege of spending an hour talking in depth with Dr. John Holdren, and found him to be deeply committed to public service and ethical science. It seems to me that the antagonistic positions being taken by Mr Schmitt are so anachronistic, disingenuous and illogical that the man seems to be kicking his own rebuttal into gear.