Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, made headlines this week when he suggested that climate change is, to some extent, good. “We know humans have most flourished during times of warming trends,” he told a Nevada TV station. “There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that necessarily is a bad thing.”
Media outlets rushed to condemn Pruitt’s perspective—he’s also previously denied that carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming, an alarming position for an EPA chief. Still, Pruitt is not completely wrong here. Climate change won’t be all that bad for some people, and might even benefit a few of them, specifically wealthy white men, like him.
Before he took his position at the EPA, Pruitt, a lawyer and Republican politician, was an Oklahoma Senator and Attorney General for the state, where he fought viciously against environmental regulation and the EPA’s “activist agenda.” (He’s sued the EPA 14 separate times, as Motherboard previously reported.) Pruitt’s connections to the fossil fuel industry are well-known: He’s received over $300,000 from oil and gas companies during his campaigns over the years, according to The Washington Post.
In this most recent interview, Pruitt acknowledged that humans are contributing to climate change “to a certain degree,” but then went on to question whether anyone can say for sure what the “ideal surface temperature” should be today, or in 2100. (The Earth hasn’t been this warm for 11,000 years, according to an AP fact check of Pruitt’s statements.)
The impacts of climate change will be intricately connected to poverty, gender, and race
Shoddy science aside, it’s true that the impacts of climate change will be unevenly distributed around the world, at least in the short- to medium-term. “Some individuals, sectors, systems, and regions will be less affected—or may even benefit; other individuals, sectors, systems, and regions may suffer significant losses,” notes an IPCC report.
Plenty of people have argued that colder-climate countries like Canada, where I live, will reap the economic rewards of climate change—and that an ice-free Arctic Ocean will open new shipping routes across the North, bringing a flood of tourists and money. Already, a warming climate has allowed a cruise ship to plow through the previously impassable Northwest Passage, and is making it possible for vineyards to thrive in typically chilly places like Nova Scotia. Although we’re living through a period of global mass extinction, a select number of plants and animals could benefit from rapidly warming temperatures, too.
The more frightening aspects of climate change, like rising sea levels, won’t impact all places equally either. In Canada, the Atlantic Coast is especially vulnerable, partly because the land there is also slowly sinking as sea levels rise, an effect known as post-glacial rebound. Coastal cities like Charlottetown and Halifax are preparing. Low-lying Miami may find itself “entirely below sea level” with even 2℃ of global warming, according to The Guardian, which also identified Shanghai and Osaka as at high risk. Then there are small island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati, and Palau, which could be wiped out entirely.
But for those not living in a threatened coastal community—the people who can find a place to settle down with few superstorms or wildfires, plenty of fresh drinking water, and maybe even a nearby doomsday seed vault that’s been fortified against the rapidly degrading environment—there will be money to be made from the changing climate.
Perhaps this is what Pruitt is sensing. The impacts of climate change will be intricately connected to poverty, gender, and race. Pruitt probably doesn’t have much to worry about here, but what’s clear is that poor people, and poor countries, will bear the brunt of it—when ironically, they contributed least to the climate change we’re experiencing.
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