Advertisement
News by VICE

What You Need to Know About the Trump Adviser Who Compared CO2 to Persecuted Jews

Here's the lowdown on Princeton physicist William Happer.

by Alex Lubben
May 28 2019, 6:39pm

A physicist who said “the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler” may get the authority to question the conclusions of the biggest government-funded climate study.

“Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews,” Princeton physicist William Happer said to cap that thought, during a 2014 interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin on CNBC.

But there's more: Happer also leads an organization that wants more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and he has taken tons of funding from fossil fuel interests.

Happer already serves on the National Security Council as the president’s deputy assistant for emerging tech — and now he’s rallying Trump’s inner circle (like National Security Adviser John Bolton) to support him to lead a new climate review panel that will question the conclusions of the National Climate Assessment, the New York Times reported. It’s not yet clear exactly how much influence Happer would have over the study’s conclusions, but the Trump administration also reportedly wants to keep the worst-case scenarios out of the climate study, according to the Times.

Opponents of the Trump administration’s moves to dismantle U.S. climate policy have said they plan to use the last National Climate Assessment — which estimated in 2018 that temperatures could rise by 7 degrees by the end of the century — to argue against the rollbacks. When Trump was asked by reporters about the 2018 version of the study — which 300 leading scientists worked on — the president said, “I don’t believe it.”

With Happer on the panel, Trump would likely hope to influence the next version of the study, due around 2021. Happer and his picks will be able to question the report's conclusions and bolster attempts to roll back policy that’s aimed at curbing climate change.

Here’s what you need to know about Happer:

He’s an unflinching advocate for carbon dioxide

At least 97 percent of scientists agree that global warming is real and primarily caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases, like CO2.

But Happer said at a conference in 2017 that “the 97% consensus is phony.” He’s also gone as far as to say that parts of the scientific field he apparently studies are a “cult.” (It’s worth noting that Happer is a physicist, not a climate scientist.)

“There’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult,” Happer told the Guardian in 2017. “It’s like Hare Krishna or something like that. They’re glassy-eyed, and they chant. It will potentially harm the image of all science.”

Here’s a few other comments Happer made in C02’s defense:

  • “The public in general doesn't realize that from the point of view of geological history, we are in a CO2 famine,” Happer told E&E News in January for 2018.
  • “Let me point out that if you have a well-designed coal plant, what comes out of the stack of the plant is almost the same thing that comes out of a person's breath,” Happer said at a Heritage Foundation conference in 2016.
  • “If plants could vote, they would vote for coal,” he said at another conference in 2015.

In an op-ed Happer co-authored in the Wall Street Journal in 2013, he also went into a detailed explanation of photosynthesis, the process through which plants use carbon dioxide and sunlight to create nutrients, to argue that more CO2 would be good for plants.

“For most plants, and for the animals and humans that use them, more carbon dioxide, far from being a ‘pollutant’ in need of reduction, would be a benefit,” he wrote.

Climate change is actually causing an extinction crisis: One million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction as the world gets hotter due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases like CO2 in the atmosphere, a recent report from the U.N. found.

Happer’s been bankrolled by right-wing megadonors

Happer is such a big fan of CO2 that he founded an advocacy group for the compound, the CO2 Coalition. And it’s gotten some significant donations from some of conservative America’s wealthiest families.

The Mercer family, which gave $15 million to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, also gave $170,000 to Happer’s CO2 Coalition in 2017, according to the Mercer’s tax documents reviewed by HuffPost, and $150,000 in 2016, according to E&E News. The organization also took over $200,000 from the Koch Institute between 2013 and 2016.

The CO2 Coalition says its role is to educate “thought leaders, policy makers, and the public about the important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy.”

There’s big money in climate denial, and Happer’s cashed in by taking positions at right-wing think tanks like the Heartland Institute. Happer was on the board of another research organization that funded studies which tried to disprove the effects of climate change that took $715,000 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2015, according to the Guardian.

Greenpeace also caught Happer in a sting operation in which the environmental group’s operatives posed as representatives from an oil and coal company. They approached Happer to author a paper that would paint the fossil fuel industry in a positive light. Happer agreed to do it without disclosing the source of his funding.

Cover image: Physicist William Happer arrives for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, NY, USA on January 13, 2017. Credit: Albin Lohr-Jones / Pool via CNP - NO WIRE SERVICE - Photo by: Albin Lohr-Jones/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images