The Weekend Wonk: Tobacco/Climate Denialist to be Trump Advisor?
February 19, 2017
There are reports that Princeton Physicist William Happer is being considered as President Trump’s science advisor. Here’s an overview of some of his statements and views on climate science.
December 8, 2016
“We’re doing our best to try and counter this myth that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant. It’s not a pollutant at all.” 
“We should be telling the scientific truth that more CO2 is actually a benefit to the earth. [… ]There are very good reasons to think that.” 
“Let me point out that if you have a well-designed coal plant, what comes out of the stack of the plant is almost the same thing that comes out of a person’s breath.” 
“The main thing is that people don’t realize we’re in a CO2 famine right now. […] We’re way down. We’re down by a factor of 4 or 5 over the levels that plants would really like.” 
For “carbon starved” argument, see here.
“We know that the scary things about CO2 you keep hearing about — sea level rise, we’re all going to boil—that’s all based on models that don’t work. They’re not even close to working. […] So why are we basing these ruinous regulations on models that don’t work?” 
Dr. Happer was part of Senator Cruz’s infamous “Data or Dogma” hearing of December 2015. He got kind of testy when a Greenpeace activist asked him about payments from the fossil fuel industry.
Investigators also approached Professor William Happer of Princeton University, who is chairman of the climate sceptic George Marshall Institute and a former Director of Energy Research at the US Department of Energy under the first President Bush where he “supervised all of DOE’s work on climate change”.
Professor Happer, who is a physicist rather than a climatologist, told Greenpeace reporters that he would be willing to produce research promoting the benefits of carbon dioxide for $250 per hour. He asked that the money be paid to climate sceptic campaign group, the CO2 Coalition, of which he is a board member.
Happer described his work on carbon dioxide as a “labor of love” and said that while other pollutants produced by burning fossil fuels are a problem, in his opinion “More CO2 will benefit the world”, adding “The only way to limit CO2 would be to stop using fossil fuels, which I think would be a profoundly immoral and irrational policy.”
When reporters asked if it would be possible for the fossil fuel client’s role in commissioning the research to remain hidden, in order to give the work more credibility, Happer replied that: “If I write the paper alone, I don’t think there would be any problem stating that ‘the author received no financial compensation for this essay.’”
Here Dr. Happer compares the scientific consensus about the radiative properties of CO2 to Hitler’s persecution of Jews. Dr Happer takes offense at the “climate denier” label he’s earned, while apparently supporting an administration where holocaust denial is a policy.
Happer was interviewed by Asbury Park Press regarding his views on climate change. Some excerpts below:
“I would like history to remember me as an honest scientist. Along with many like me, I am trying to explain to my fellow Americans the serious damage that will be done to us, and indeed to the whole world, by cockamamie policies to ‘save the planet’ from CO2.” 
“We have no more ability to prevent climate change than King Canute had to stop the tide from rising. All the observational evidence is that CO2 has a relatively small effect on temperature. Changes in the Earth’s temperature will continue to be dominated by natural causes, whether we increase CO2 concentrations, by continuing to burn fossil fuels, or whether we permit a nightmarish police state to stop emissions CO2,and punish ‘deniers’ as some in the alarmist camp demand.” 
“I can’t think of any benefits for reducing CO2 emissions. CO2 is not a pollutant. […] Almost all plants grow better and are more drought resistant with two to four times more CO2 than now.” 
“There is no “overwhelming consensus.” In spite of decades of propaganda, and even threats to their jobs, about half of meteorologists remain unconcerned about global warming.” 
In this still-popular video, the activities of the George Marshall Institute, of which Happer has been a director, are examined. Specifically, the Institute was instrumental in pushing the “Scientists Petition” hoax, an online poll signed by thousands of dentists, chiropractors, engineers, economists, podiatrists, and others, which purports to be a declaration by “scientists” that climate science is bogus.
The project drew an unprecedented rebuke from the National Academy of Science, for its dishonest pretense that the poll was somehow connected with the Academy.
The “32000 scientists” meme remains one of the most popular alternative facts on Facebook and elsewhere, something I’ll be revisiting soon.
In the interest of fairness, I have to include Dr Happer’s statements in a recent Pro Publica interview, in regard to climate science, and science in general, with which I would heartily agree. These comments would indicate, that, if confirmed, Dr Happer would be in conflict with the new Secretary of Education, with the Republican Party’s attitude toward science education in general, and with the “Science” committee, lead by GOP Rep. Lamar Smith.
Well, I guess where I see the big problem in our country is science illiteracy in the general population. If I were King, I would figure out some way to get better science teaching into the schools, you know, K through 12, and especially middle school and high school. It’s a disgrace that people get out with high school degrees knowing as little as they do. And I think it’s getting worse. I think it was much better in the ‘30s than it is today. And teaching makes a difference.
I often tell the people this anecdote — I once asked Edward Teller [a key architect of the hydrogen bomb] how it was possible that there were all these Hungarians, you know, there was him and Eugene Wigner and Szilard, von Neumann — a real constellation. They were all about the same age, and made enormous contributions to science. It was easy, he said. We all had the same high school teacher in the Fasori Gimnázium in Budapest. So there’s an example. Whoever this teacher was deserves a medal, you know. Nobody pays any attention to him. But at least in Hungarian society, teaching was an honorable profession, so that this really good guy — probably better than most university professors — produced this galaxy of stars. So I think we should seriously think about improving general education.
It’s so difficult to talk to people because their backgrounds are so weak in anything having to do with science.
“I’m all for climate science, you know. If I were King, I would maintain and improve, if I could, any measurement systems we have — satellites, ocean buoys. I think those are wonderful things and they have this problem of maintenance I mentioned. We’re kind of stingy, and so a satellite goes down and then you have a gap and you’re not quite sure how to calibrate the next one, you know, and it wouldn’t cost that much to have a little bit of redundancy so that didn’t happen in the future. I don’t know what the solution to this is.”
Finally, one way to get at climate science is to examine bogus claims by flacks like Happer, and then compare to what the science actually says. This is a golden opportunity to do just that, and we have a document prepared by long time climate expert, Mike McCracken, who headed a DOE task force on climate change as far back as the 70s, and has been a leader on the science ever since.
Here’s an example from the longer document, which I highly recommend as a primer. Comment responses are from Dr. MacCracken (MCM).
Happer: I am a strong supporter of a clean environment. We need to be vigilant to keep our land, air, and waters free of real pollution, particulates, heavy metals, and pathogens, but carbon dioxide (CO2) is not one of these pollutants. Carbon is the stuff of life. Our bodies are made of carbon. A normal human exhales around 1 kg of CO2 (the simplest chemically stable molecule of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere) per day. Before the industrial period, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 270 ppm. At the present time, the concentration is about 390 ppm, 0.039 percent of all atmospheric molecules and less than 1 percent of that in our breath. About fifty million years ago, a brief moment in the long history of life on earth, geological evidence indicates, CO2 levels were several thousand ppm, much higher than now. And life flourished abundantly.
Comment (MCM): First, when a scientist asserts we know a value from the past with more accuracy than at present (i.e., “was 270 ppm,” and with no specified time reference given, versus “about 390 ppm” at present), it is good to be cautious. Generally, air bubbles trapped in glacial ice indicate that the CO2 concentration in the nearly 10,000 years of the Holocene (the era since the end of the last glacial period) has been in the range of roughly 270 to 280 ppm, being closer to 280 ppm just before the start of the Industrial period in about 1750. Second, with respect to Dr. Happer’s citing of much higher CO2 concentrations many tens of millions of years ago, that is widely agreed (although timing and values are still quite uncertain), but he neglects to add that the global climate then was very different, being warm enough for what is now tropical vegetation in polar latitudes. In addition, all indications are that those very high concentrations of CO2 contributed strongly to the much higher global average temperature that existed at the time. Over the next century or two, continued use of fossil fuels and the resulting emissions of CO2 have the potential to very rapidly increase the CO2 concentration, to significantly increase temperatures around the world, and for this to occur so rapidly that natural processes cannot work fast enough to neutralize the acidification of the oceans that is likely to seriously disrupt marine ecosystems.
On the issue of whether or not CO2 is a pollutant (as opposed to just a climate- changing agent), Dr. Happer is on the one hand stating the obvious (CO2 is vital to plant life, which is vital to sustain human and animal life. However, he is also, by inter-mixing colloquial and legal terminology, seeking to justify taking exception to a very important conclusion in the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that he discusses in the next paragraph. In making the point that humans exhale CO2 to justify that it is not a pollutant, he fails to add that this occurs because humans can die from their blood carrying too much CO2. As for many other substances, too little is a problem (in this case, not enough for plants to grow), too much is a problem (in this case, humans and animals die from too much), and we are dependent on the atmospheric CO2 concentration being within a safe range.