Media normalizes climate science denial of Trump nominee for Interior Secretary

Now you’re a hero if you don’t imply that the world’s top scientists and governments are conspiring to deceive everyone

Interior Secretary-designate, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) being sworn in for his nomination hearing Tuesday. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Interior Secretary-designate, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) being sworn in for his nomination hearing Tuesday. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), is a garden variety climate science denier. His Tuesday testimony revealed a lack of knowledge regarding the basics of climate science, and he repeated standard climate denial talking points designed to confuse and mislead the public.

But here are the headlines his nomination hearing was greeted with:

  • Trump Pick To Head Interior Department Says Climate Change Is Not A Hoax (NPR)
  • Interior pick Zinke on climate change: ‘I don’t believe it’s a hoax’ (Politico)
  • Interior nominee Ryan Zinke doesn’t believe climate change is hoax (CBS)

Is this what the world’s leading nation in both science and technology has come to?

It is apparently now “headline news” that the man who will be in charge of all of our public lands, which are being devastated by human-caused climate change — some of which was caused by fossil fuels extracted from those lands — doesn’t believe there is a massive conspiracy carried out by the entire global scientific community and literally every single major government in the world, including our own, to fool the public and media.

Would the media run these headlines?

  • Trump nominee for Surgeon General says smoking-cancer link not a hoax?
  • Trump nominee for NASA chief says moon-landing not a hoax?

Of course not.

During his confirmation, Zinke made a bunch of numerous inaccurate and confused statements. He testified that there is no overwhelming scientific consensus about human-caused climate change when there is. in response to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Zinke said, “I think where there’s debate on it is what that influence is [and] what can we do about it.”

As Sanders informed him, there is no such scientific “debate.” The world’s scientists and governments have determined that the best estimate that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950! And what we can and must do about it is to cutback on burning fossil fuels, including those on public lands, something Zinke said he opposes.

Yet CBS not only ran the headline quoted above, their opening sentence was “Donald Trump’s choice to head the Interior Department on Tuesday rejected the president-elect’s past claim that climate change is a hoax, saying it is indisputable that environmental changes are affecting the world’s temperature and human activity is a major reason.”

Except that isn’t at all what Zinke said. In both his exchange with Sanders and later with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) he merely admits to humans being “an influence” — which is as meaningless as saying “cigarette smoking is an influence on human health” or “we landed an astronaut on the moon.”

In fact, when Franken explicitly corrected him and said it’s been “a major influence,” Zinke immediately demurred with the now-tiresome cop-out “I am not an expert in this field”:

Few if any nominees or political leaders are “an expert in this field,” which of course is precisely why the U.S. joined with the rest of the world asking all of the experts in the field to give us a review on the science every few years. But it is precisely that scientific consensus Zinke and pretty much all of the Trump nominees deny.

Much of Zinke’s reply to Franken is standard climate denier talking points, but this section killer is nearly impossible to decipher: “When you say that we want to — on CO2, recognize CO2 level absolutely, recognize also that the ocean is a contributor to it. When a small rise in temperature in the ocean makes a big difference in CO2.”

He seems to be saying that the ocean contributes to CO2 rise, whereas the reverse is true — the ocean absorbs CO2 (and acidifies). It’s true that as the ocean warms, it can’t absorb as much CO2, but that is a reason to be more worried about climate change, since it means global warming may well speed up in the future.

Zinke’s ignorance of the most basic science of climate change is highlighted in this bizarre part of his testimony:

Sen Franken talked about global warming — the statistics I have from a single summer of forest fires in Rosebud County… emitted more particulate in the area in that season that running 3,000 years of Colstrip.

Huh? Coal plants like the one in Colstrip, Montana, cause global warming by releasing carbon dioxide, so this comparison of particulates (i.e. smoke) is essentially irrelevant. The actual talking point appears to be “Did you know that it would take the coal fired power plant at Colstrip 1,500 years to release the same amount of particulate emissions into the air that a Montana wildfire season can produce in just ONE year?”

But again, particulate emissions isn’t the relevant comparison, CO2 is. When the Air Resources Bureau of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality did the CO2 comparison, they found “wildfire CO2 emissions from a devastating fire year won’t come anywhere close to what Colstrip burns annually.”

Oops.

Yes, Trump has lowered the bar beyond what any imagined through his election and wild tweets on every subject, including the claim that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese. But that doesn’t mean the media has to treat the hoax claim as if it were somehow legitimate and applaud cabinet nominees who don’t believe in an absurd conspiracy theory — especially when they still deny, confuse, or botch our well-established understanding of climate change and the threat it poses to Americans.