President-elect Donald Trump's Secretary of the Interior-designate Ryan Zinke generated undeserved positive headlines at his confirmation hearing when he said he did not believe that climate change is a hoax. Because, despite expressing a belief that human activity contributes to the cataclysmic phenomenon, Zinke believes we should go right on contributing to it.
At the confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Interior-designate Ryan Zinke, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked if Zinke agrees with President-elect Donald Trump that climate change is a hoax. Much of the corporate media rewarded Zinke by only highlighting part of his testimony, and congratulating him for stating what is the most basic of facts.
But Zinke’s self-contradictory responses warrant careful scrutiny (emphasis mine):
SANDERS: President-elect Trump has suggested — more than suggested, stated in his view that climate change is a “hoax.” Now, I know you are not here to be administrator of the EPA or Secretary of Energy, but the issue of climate change is in fact very important, for issues that the Department of the Interior deals with. Is President-elect Trump right, is climate change a hoax?
ZINKE: I can give you — the best answer is three things: First of all, the climate is changing. That is undisputable. I am from Glacier National Park.
SANDERS: You don’t have any more glaciers there, huh?
ZINKE: I have seen glaciers from my time recede. In fact, when my family and I have eaten lunch on ground glacier, the glaciers receded during our lunch.
SANDERS: If you could, is the president-elect right, is climate change a hoax?
ZINKE: If I can give you two more points, I’ll make it short. The second thing is man has had an influence. I think that is undisputable as well. Climate is changing, man is an influence. I think where there is debate is what that influence is, what can we do about it. As the Department of Interior, I will inherit, if confirmed, the USGS. We have great scientists there. I am not a climate scientist expert, but I can tell you I will become a lot more familiar with it, and it would be based on objective science. I don’t believe it is a hoax.
SANDERS: You do not believe it is a hoax.
ZINKE: No. I believe we should be prudent to be prudent. That means I don’t know definitively. There is a lot of debate on both sides of the aisle.
SANDERS: Well, actually there is not a whole lot of debate now. The scientific community is virtually unanimous that climate change is real and causing devastating problems. There is a debate on this committee, but not within the scientific community. Next question, dealing with climate change, if climate change is already causing devastating problems, should we allow fossil fuel to be drilled on public lands?
ZINKE: Again, we need an economy and jobs, too. In my experience, I have probably seen 63 different countries. I have seen what happens when you don’t have regulation —
SANDERS: I do not mean to be rude, but I’m taking your answer to be yes, we should allow fossil fuel to be drilled on public lands.
ZINKE: I am an all of the above energy — and I want to be honest with you, I’m all of the above.
SANDERS: Will you encourage wind and solar on public lands?
ZINKE: I will encourage absolutely, all of the above. I think that’s the better solution going forward, is all of the above energy.
Not only did Zinke walk back his declaration that climate change is not a hoax (“I don’t know definitively”), he at once acknowledged the “undisputed” role of human activity in climate change, then recommended worsening that role by drilling for fossil fuels on public lands.
Later in the hearing, Zinke doubled down on that position by promising to end the non-existent “war on coal,” a substance which is the leading contributor to climate change:
BARRASSO: Will you commit to ending this moratorium on federal coal leasing?
ZINKE: The “War on Coal,” I believe, is real. I have Decker, Montana in my area, and behind me, is a gentleman who works in the coal mines of the Crow Agency. By the way, Crow Agency, if you were to take coal out of the picture, the unemployment rate would probably be in the 90 percent. They are very keen on making sure they have their jobs and we give them the ability for self determination. The moratorium was an example of one-size-fits-all. It was a view from Washington, not a view from the states. Particularly, if you are a state such as Wyoming, and parts of Montana, West Virginia, where coal is important. Overall, the president-elect has made a commitment to end the “War on Coal.” I think we should be smart on how we approach our energy. All of the above is a correct policy. Coal is certainly a great part of that, of our energy mix. To your point, I am also a great believer that we should invest in the research and development particularly on coal because we know we have the asset. Let’s work together to make it cleaner, better. We should be leading the world in clean energy technology. And I’m pretty confident that coal can be a part of that. But it is about science.
The fact that Zinke recognizes the role of human activity in global warming makes his testimony worse, not better. The real story here should be that the man nominated by the climate-denier-in-chief believes in global warming, and is eager to make it worse.
Believing in human-made climate change is not praiseworthy; it is a minimal recognition of fact. Holding that belief, while also believing in made-up things like “clean coal” and a “War on Coal,” is terrifying for a high government official who may be tasked with responsibility for vast federal lands.