Shifting sands of the climate debate

by Judith Curry

Insiders are out; and outsiders are becoming the insiders.

There is much angst among the climate activists and scientist advocates about the Trump presidency, his public statements, and his Cabinet appointees — it doesn’t look good for their preferred energy policies and funding for their preferred research topics.  A relatively calm and objective summary of the concerns is provided by David Victor in e360.

On the other side of the climate debate, there is jubilation:

In terms of the shifting fortunes of insiders versus outsiders, this is starkly evident in Trump’s Cabinet appointments and transition teams.


The hackles of climate activists and scientist advocates  were raised by the appointment of Myron Ebell to lead the transition team for the EPA.  Worst fears were realized by the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA.

A relatively sane article on Pruitt and the EPA appears in the National Review.


DOE is currently the hot button, with rumors that Rick Perry will be selected as Secretary of DOE. Recall that in a previous campaign for President, he campaigned to abolish the DOE.  You may be unaware that Texas has much more renewable energy than California, something that happened while Perry was governor.

The biggest outrage is associated with a list of questions sent by transition team to DOE.  At the WaPo, Chris Mooney et al. are alarmed by a memo sent out by the Transition Team at the Department of Energy “Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings“.

Willis at WUWT does a good job of looking at the questions sent the DOE. In summary:  they want to know who went to the UNFCCC COP meetings, which are political meetings (hard to imagine a good rationale for govt scientists to attend those meetings).  They also want to know which DOE employees contributed to the IWG Social Cost of Carbon Report – a report that is a travesty, IMO.  Overall, the questions sent to DOE look to be relevant and insightful


OSTP is the Office of Science and Technology Policy, under the directorship of ‘Science Advisor’ John Holdren. For information, go to their website.

The alarm associated with OSTP is summarized by this tweet: New Trump DOE transition team lead calls 4 elimination of @whitehouseostp, nat’l lab privatization, applied R&D “beyond constitutional role”

The article of concern is this report from Heritage:  Science Policy Priorities and Reforms for the 45th President.  The article is well worth reading and  makes some very interesting  (and surely controversial) points. One of the key recommendations is to eliminate the OSTP, in favor of specially appointed committees as needed.  After the egregious role that Holdren played in politicizing climate science, I suspect that Obama’s OSTP did more harm than good, and that there are better ways to approach the general objectives of science advice on security and competitiveness to the White House.  Note, I have heard absolutely no discussion about Trump’s intent re OSTP.

Changing their tune

There is a group of scientists, environmentalists, policy makers, politicians and journalists, from both sides of the climate debate that seem to be changing their tune, towards a more rational center ground.  Some examples:

Grounds for optimism

There are grounds for optimism for a saner, effective climate and energy policies:

JC reflections

The sands of the climate debate are surely shifting rapidly, with major implications for those who are active in the public debate — scientist/advocates on both sides, environmentalists and the libertarian think tanks, the media, and policy makers and politicians.

One side stands to lose a massive amount of influence in the public debate, whereas the other side is potentially ascendant (to the extent that this issue continues to have political saliency).

I have hopes that climate research will be a winner in all this, with more openness and transparency and allowance for diversity of perspectives and funding for a broader range of research topics.

I expect that climate and energy policy will be a winner in the Trump administration relative to the Obama administration. Any solutions will come from innovations in the private sector and state and local governments — not from federal decrees or U.N. proclamations.

It will certainly be interesting to see how all this plays out, in terms of the scientific research agenda, media reporting, private sector investments, and public policy.

Filed under: Politics, Sociology of science

Judith Curry

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