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]

“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.