The president’s cabinet may be filled with science deniers aimed at destroying America’s livable climate — but they still don’t have their talking points down cold.
On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s dodged questions from Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) with nonsense answers that one climate scientist called “stupid and ignorant.”
At an Energy and Natural Resources Committee budget hearing, Franken first debunked Zinke’s false claim that the vanishing glaciers at Glacier National Park have undergone a “consistent melt” since the end of the last ice age — explaining that “scientists who work for you” have found the melting has “dramatically accelerated” in recent decades.
Then Franken tried to get Zinke to answer one question: “Can you tell me how much warming government scientists predict for the end of the century under a business-as-usual scenario?”
Zinke’s non-answers repeat many of the standard falsehoods we’ve heard from the President and his team — but he still mangles most of them.
At first, Zinke dodged the question entirely. “The Paris accord” he began. “In the president and my judgement, it wasn’t about climate change, it was about a bad deal.” (In reality, Paris is an amazingly good deal for America.)
Franken interrupted to ask Zinke to answer the question. In response, Zinke claimed, “I don’t think the government scientists can predict with certainty. There isn’t a model that existed it can predict today’s weather given all the data.”
This was “a stupid and ignorant answer,” climatologist Kevin Trenberth told ClimateWire. Yes, long-term weather prediction is hard because on any given day months from now the possible temperature range could span tens of degrees Fahrenheit. But the climate is much easier to predict precisely because climate is the long-term statistical average of the weather. Greenland is going to be much colder than Kenya during the course of a year and during almost every individual month. The Amazon is going to be much wetter than the Sahara desert virtually year-round. The global climate is getting warmer.
Zinke didn’t even get this standard denier talking point right. Rather than talking about the difficulty of long-term weather forecasting, he said models can’t “predict today’s weather given all the data.” Actually, as NASA’s Gavin Schmidt told ClimateWire, weather forecasting is “excellent at the 1 to 5 day range.”
As the exchange went on, Zinkes continued to ignore the original question. Instead, he repeats an erroneous claim that “if everyone adhered to the Paris climate accord, that change would be roughly 0.2°, which is insignificant.”
“No, no, no,” Franken countered, while Zinke lamely interjected, “That was an MIT study.” (Both MIT groups that worked on the study in question debunked this erroneous understanding of the data when Trump first made the claim.)
“I just want you to answer the question that I asked you,” Franken said. “That’s all I want you to do.”
Zinke’s last dodge is to completely screw up a talking point, still fail to answer the question, and then make an impossible promise.
“Can you tell me, sir, whether or not China increased its co2 between now and 230 [sic] under the agreement and by what?” Zinke asks. “I’ll be glad to give you that answer.”
Zinke was probably trying repeat one of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s favorite (again, erroneous) talking points — claiming that in the Paris deal, China “didn’t have to take steps until 2030.” That is false. China pledged to peak in emissions by 2030 — and “to make best efforts to peak early.” That requires a lot of effort by the developing country, which is why even before the Paris agreement, China agreed to peak coal use by 2020.
Zinke appears totally ignorant of the fact that China’s coal use peaked back in 2013–2014 — and that the country is already plateauing in CO2 emissions.
Still, Zinke cannot possibly give the answer to the question of “by what” amount China increased its CO2 between now and 2030 — unless he has prophetic powers. He told the senator he would provide the answer in written follow up.
But none of this should come as a surprise. Zinke’s confirmation hearing made clear he is a garden variety climate science denier. And the guy who he works for also routinely screws up denier talking points.