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A Secretary of State Pompeo Would Be Bad for Climate Issues

Secretary of State hopeful, Mike Pompeo, considers climate action the work of “radical environmentalists.”

by Sarah Emerson
Dec 1 2017, 7:56pm

Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

The White House intends to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, according to the New York Times.

The plan, which President Trump has not yet approved, would by proxy make the State Department’s stance on climate change one of denial.

Pompeo has long opposed climate action, and received millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry over his political career. The Koch Brothers consider him an invaluable ally. And he once referred to President Obama’s Paris Agreement talks as “bow[ing] down to radical environmentalists”—a contrast to Tillerson’s own belief that America should remain an active treaty member.

During Pompeo’s CIA Senate confirmation hearing in January, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked if he agreed with the conclusion of CIA analysts that climate change is a primary cause of rising global instability. Pompeo responded that he was unfamiliar with this analysis.

Sen. Harris also asked whether Pompeo agreed with the scientific consensus, espoused by NASA, that climate change is happening due to human activity.

“Frankly, as the director of CIA, would prefer today not to get into the details of the climate debate and science,” Pompeo said, adding that he hadn’t spent time looking at NASA’s findings “in particular.”

Climate change’s role in national security—that it poses destabilizing threats such as flooding, drought, and natural disasters—is widely accepted. A World Economic Forum survey of 750 experts identified climate change and extreme weather events as leading global risks. In 2016, President Obama issued a memorandum allowing federal agencies to prepare for these impacts. President Trump’s own defense secretary, James Mattis, agrees with this course of action.

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Mattis wrote to the Senate Armed Services Committee this year. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

This month, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which it routinely does, citing climate change as a “direct threat” to national security and US Armed Forces. The report requires the Secretary of Defense to investigate these threats over the next 20 years. President Trump, as is his duty, is expected to sign the bill.

Pompeo’s views on the matter place him in the minority. While stalwart climate deniers, such as House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), refute the connection between climate and national security, House Republicans fought this year to permit Defense Department spending on climate issues.

If confirmed to head the State Department, Pompeo could easily continue gut the agency’s climate initiatives.

Under Tillerson, the Office of Global Change and the Special Envoy for Climate Change has already been stripped of staff. Reports on climate change have been deleted from the agency’s website. While nothing is certain yet, it’s very possible that Pompeo could espouse even more conservative viewpoints on climate change than his predecessor.