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Appointment of Climate Realist David Legates at NOAA Sparks Protest by Representatives Grijalva and Huffman

Two Democratic leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee are demanding that the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explain why it hired a “climate denier” to be the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction. The alleged “denier” is David R. Legates, a climatologist and professor at the University of Delaware.

In their oversight letter of September 15, Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) state: “Dr. Legates’ continued denial of human-driven climate change and its devastating impacts degrades the scientific integrity and derails the mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).” They further contend that “it is shameful that such a thing as a ‘climate denier’ still exists and extremely problematic that one be appointed to a prominent position in NOAA.”

What exactly is their evidence that Legates is a “denier”? The Representatives state: “Dr. Legates has testified before our Committee downplaying or downright refuting the anthropogenic drivers of our current climate crisis. He stated: ‘Climate has always changed, and weather is always variable due to complex, powerful natural forces. No efforts to stabilize the climate can possibly be successful.’” Legates also stated that “transition[ing] from fossil fuels to so called clean energy to protect us from climate change is a recipe for personal and economic disaster that will have virtually no impact on the Earth’s climate.”

Neither of those positions either presupposes or implies that anthropogenic climate change is not occurring, or that carbon dioxide emissions do not cause ocean acidification. See Legates’s 2019 testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee. What Legates does do, which apparently is an unpardonable sin for Reps. Grijalva and Huffman, is present data and analysis, including analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing a climate “crisis.” Moreover, the assessment that agendas of radical industrial and social transformation like the Green New Deal would be a cure worse than the disease is a policy judgment. It also neither implies nor presupposes that anthropogenic warming does not exist.

Real science—science as a mode of inquiry rather than a mantra to enforce groupthink—flourishes in an atmosphere of open debate, not of party-line conformity. NOAA is a lead agency in producing the U.S. government’s quadrennial National Climate Assessment reports. What is shameful is the way federal agencies have spun those reports to keep the public alarmed and build political support for costly and potentially ruinous schemes to rig national energy markets.

A modicum of internal intellectual diversity could go a long way toward improving the quality of the next National Assessment. Dr. Legates fits the bill. According to Google Scholar, Legates has authored or co-authored 146 papers, which have been cited 12,755 times in the scientific literature since 1991, including 5,247 times since 2015.

A question for the Reps. Grijalva and Huffman: How can one “deny” science, yet contribute so much to it? ​