The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has tapped a University of Delaware professor known for his views that cast doubt on the severity of global warming for a top post.
Dr. David R. Legates, who's on leave from UD's Geography and Spatial Sciences Department, has been appointed to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Observation and Prediction.
"The word 'denier' has always been used because it sounds an awful lot like 'Holocaust denier,' and we don't want you to be one of those kinds of people."
"Climate, in general, is a very complicated system. It probably is the most complicated system short of life on Earth, and to say that we understand all of it and we understand exactly how it works...is to lie through your teeth," he said. "I don't deny that climate exists; I don't deny that climate change exists--climate certainly changes, always has changes and always will change. But the whole point is that you are branded a 'denier' of some sort because you don't go along with whatever the predefined consensus is--even though it's not a really a consensus. Nevertheless, it is what we use to beat people like me over the head and try to make us submit to their will."
Legates said humans certainly impact climate change, but he noted:
"There's 50 percent that think that natural variability is slightly greater than human activity, and about 50 [percent] that say human activity is greater," he said. "It's not that anybody is discounting that humans have any impact...humans can and do influence our climate," he said. "The question is always whether carbon dioxide is that magical molecule that causes temperature to change or maybe, even in just the game of radioactively active gases, which is absorbing energy, that in fact there is another molecule that is much more important than carbon dioxide and that is water vapor."
"Are we seeing more floods and droughts in northern Delaware? And the answer is yes. Does it have anything to do with climate change? The answer is no--it has everything to do with land use change," he said. "If you look at...Philadelphia weather stations, you'll notice that on a nice calm night, it will be warmer in center city and Germantown...will be colder. The reason for that is the retained heart of the city, so yes, humans can and do influence our climate."
He also weighed in on a lawsuit filed last week by Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, which points the finger at 31 oil and gas companies for the effects of climate change and seeks to make them pay to be a part of the solution.
"The consequences of climate change are already costing astronomical sums in Delaware, and threaten to cost billions more," Jennings said last week. "We are suing to hold Big Oil accountable and to make them pay for the damage done to our state."
Legates said the lawsuit mirrors lawsuits filed in other states, and he casts doubt on the lawsuits' potential for success.
"This is your tax dollars going to, essentially, sue to make your gasoline more expensive, make your heating oil more expensive, all to simply line their pockets, but what's going to happen--and this is why there's so many lawsuits--is they're not going to win, demonstrating that humans have destroyed the climate is directly a result of knowingly from Exxon Mobile, from American Petroleum Institute, Chevron [and] on, and on, and on...they just keep going with the hopes they can win one and down the road we can use that as leverage to win some more...it's this gunshot approach, if we just keeping shooting into the air, maybe at some point, a duck will fall, and we'll have gotten what we were after," he said.
Legates said it's easier to regulate carbon dioxide than water vapor.
"We can hit oil and gas companies and say 'see they're to blame, we need these evil corporations to give us all sorts of money.' And all we need is for them to say at one point, 'fine, we're done, we're closing up shop; we're not going to do anymore.' And what would you do without plastics? what would you do without heating oil? What would you do without electricity? We would be back to the Soviet Union."
He also added the wildfires raging out west aren't a result of climate change. He said the fires are a result of poor forest management.
"Some of these fires were arson--you can't stop that--that's not a climate change cause, but clearly, a lot of this...is the way in which we manage forests, and what we've done for years is to essentially declare 'forests are off-limits. We want to keep all those forests just as they are.' And if you know anything about the history of forests they catch fire, they burn, and so that's what ultimately will happen is all those forests will become tinderboxes, a lightning strike, an arson event, somebody careless with fire, will set fire to the place, and you'll have a major wildfire because you haven't maintained the forest appropriately."
Other scientists said the more intense fires, we've seen over the past two years, are a result of climate change as less rain creates drought-like conditions. Legates circled back to Jennings' lawsuit.
"[The lawsuit] says that essentially we are going to have more drought in Delaware. Except what happened this year? We have had more rain, particularly since about late June than we normally have. Climate varies; climate has always varied; the problem is if you read into...human-induced climate change, for every warm period, every cold period, every wet period, every dry period, every storm that comes along, you've got all your bases covered, and the problem is they'll always happen; they'll always continue to happen, and that's always been the problem," he said. "We had major fires that occurred in 1908; we've had major heat waves back in the 1930s, things have varied, but they come and go; they'll come again. But again we want to say 'this is climate change somehow. We can fix it, all we need to do is hammer the oil companies and make them give us lots of money. All we need to do is make your electricity really expensive, make your gasoline really expensive, make heating your house really expensive.' The 'Green New Deal' is a great thing because it's going to make everything so [much] more expensive. Is that really what we want?"