Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told CNBC's Squawk Box today that he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. That’s at odds with the view of government agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Pruitt’s opinion is also concerning since the EPA is supposed to regulate CO2 as a pollutant that’s causing the world to heat up.
"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact,” Pruitt told CNBC, “so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
Within the scientific community, however, there’s no “disagreement” about the role CO2 plays in climate change. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined that carbon dioxide is the heat-trapping gas that’s caused most of the warming compared to other greenhouse gases like methane. The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the US — 81 percent — is also made of CO2.
CO2 sticks around the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gasses, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, and that’s why major climate change deals like the Paris Agreement target CO2 specifically. While it takes about a decade for methane to leave the atmosphere (and convert to CO2), a part of today’s CO2 emissions will stick around for hundreds of years.
Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere, but is also produced in large quantities when we burn fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal. Today’s remarks by Pruitt are not that surprising if you consider that he’s awfully close to oil and gas companies, according to thousands of pages of emails he was forced to release last month. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt worked with these companies to bring over a dozen lawsuits against the EPA and undo environmental regulations.
For years, the fossil fuel industry has worked to stir doubt about climate science, give credibility to climate deniers, and sway public opinion — much like the tobacco industry did with lung cancer. Pruitt has done the same. In fact, this is not the first time he has cast doubts on human-made climate change. In an editorial he co-wrote last year in the National Review, Pruitt said that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” That is false. As NASA reminds us, 97 percent or more of climate scientists agree that burning fossil fuels is causing our planet to warm up. Just like the scientific community agrees that CO2 is a major contributor to global warming.
All this information is available on the EPA website — at least for now.