When it comes to climate change, the U.S. national intelligence community is fairly uniform in its assessment: climate change is a threat multiplier that poses significant risk to the country’s national security.
But President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to run the Central Intelligence Agency, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), seems less certain about the connection between climate change and national security.
In an exchange with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Thursday, Pompeo dodged questions about climate change and the threat it poses to U.S. national security, telling Harris that he did not want to get into a debate about climate change and climate science because he did not see it as central to his role in the CIA.
“Frankly, as the director of CIA, I would prefer today not to get into the details of the climate debate and science,” Pompeo said. “It seems — my role is going to be so different and unique from that. It is going to be to work alongside warriors keeping Americans safe and so I stand by the things I’ve said previously with respect to that issue.”
When asked if that meant Pompeo doubts NASA’s findings that scientists overwhelming agree that climate change is both occurring and man-made, Pompeo refused to answer.
“I haven’t spent enough time to tell you that I’ve looked at NASA’s findings in particular,” he said. “I can’t give you any judgment about that today.”
Previously, Pompeo has adamantly denied the scientific consensus on climate change, telling C-SPAN’s Washington Journal during a 2013 interview that “the science [on climate change] needs to continue to develop.” Pompeo also argued, in that same interview, that there is still significant scientific debate about the causes of climate change (that is not true — climate scientists are 97 percent certain that climate change is both real and a result of human activity).
Pompeo was elected to Congress in 2010 as part of the Tea Party movement that brought a number of extremely conservative lawmakers to Washington. The Kansas representative also has deep ties to petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, who have donated heavily to his political campaigns.
Later during Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Harris pressed Pompeo again on climate change, asking if he would be willing, as CIA Director, to change a previously held position in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Mr. Pompeo, on the issue of climate change, I understand you aren’t a scientist. What I’d like to know and what I want to hear from you is, I want a CIA director who is willing to accept the overwhelming weight of evidence when presented, even if it turns out to be politically inconvenient or require you to change a previously held position,” Harris said.
“Senator, you have my commitment to that. I’m an engineer by training. Facts and data matter, and you have my assurance if I’m confirmed in my role as CIA director, I will look at the evidence and give a straight-up answer to you and all the policymakers to whom I have a responsibility,” Pompeo replied.
But Pompeo has made comments that might give both environmentalists and lawmakers concerned with the national security threats of climate change pause. In 2015, he wrote that President Obama was “horribly wrong” to call climate change “the biggest national security threat of our lifetime.”
“His unwillingness to acknowledge the true threat posed by Islamic extremism will get Americans killed,” Pompeo continued. “His perverse fixation on achieving his economically harmful environmental agenda instead of defeating the true threats facing the world shows just how out of sync his priorities are with Kansans and the American people.”
Contrary to Pompeo’s assessment, national security experts and ex-military officials from both parties have been extremely vocal about the risks posed by climate change. In December, a bipartisan group of ex-military leaders sent the Trump transition team a briefing book outlining how climate change and national security are inextricably linked, and recommending that the United States advance a comprehensive policy for tackling climate change from a national security perspective.
Climate change has been deemed a “threat multiplier” by the Pentagon for its ability to exacerbate existing conflicts, terrorism, and disease by placing strain on crucial resources like food and water. Some experts have tied the ongoing conflict in Syria to climate change by arguing that a major climate fueled-drought devastated crops and created major food sources, which forced migration into cities and led to conflict over dwindling water resources.
Current CIA Director John Brennan has also connected deepening and ongoing conflicts to climate change, saying in a 2015 speech that “mankind’s relationship with the natural world… is a potential source of crisis itself.”