It may be the golden age of climate denial, but at least one member of President Trump's cabinet believes climate change is real and a danger to American interests. A week after new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt-who is in charge of regulating energy companies' carbon emissions-disputed the scientific consensus on climate change, it emerged that one of his colleagues disagrees. In written testimony before his Senate nomination hearings, General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, became the only cabinet member to publicly acknowledge reality.
"Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today," Mattis said in comments obtained by ProPublica. He elaborated:
"I agree that the effects of a changing climate - such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others - impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness."
"Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon," and added: "As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects."
This is an unequivocal declaration that climate change is real, it's happening now, it presents a threat to America's interests-including its national security-and that it requires an immediate, large-scale, coordinated response.
Of course, much of this is longstanding policy at the Pentagon. In October 2014, the Department of Defense released a report on the security risks posed by climate change. A July 2015 report echoed those concerns, and added recommendations for response. After the election, a bipartisan group of security officials urged Trump to treat climate change as a grave threat to national security. Still, Mattis' position is a significant break from much of the rest of the cabinet-and the president, who has described climate change as a hoax orchestrated by the Chinese.
One possible ally for Mattis is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He may be the former CEO of ExxonMobil, but climate deniers view Tillerson as one of the main threats to their agenda within the White House-particularly because he has advocated for remaining in the Paris Climate Accords. On the other hand, Exxon was aware of the threat of climate change in 1981, but funded denial efforts for 27 years. Oh, and Tillerson made the not-at-all-sketchy move of using an email alias while discussing climate change issues at Exxon.
A spokesman for Exxon, Alan Jeffers, told the BBC the alias was meant for "secure and expedited communications" between Tillerson and senior executives about a range of "business-related topics." But to Stephen Colbert last night, it sounded like an opportunity:
Somehow, the planet's best hope in this administration rest with a general and an oilman.
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