By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is readying a presidential panel that would question U.S. military and intelligence reports showing human-driven climate change poses risks to national security, according to a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The effort comes as President Donald Trump seeks to expand U.S. production of crude oil, natural gas, and coal, and unwind regulatory hurdles on doing so.
The panel, to be formed by an executive order by Trump, would be headed by William Happer, a retired Princeton University physics professor currently on the White House’s National Security Council.
Happer disagrees with mainstream climate science and believes that emissions of the main greenhouse gas that scientists blame for climate change – carbon dioxide – benefits the planet by helping plants grow.
The document calls into question U.S. government reports that say climate change poses risks to national security, including the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dan Coats.
“These scientific and national security judgements have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial scientific peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security,” the document said.
The annual DNI report, issued in January, said droughts, floods, wildfires and rising seas made worse by climate change and environmental degradation pose global threats to infrastructure and security.
In January, the Department of Defence said climate change was a national security issue and listed 79 domestic bases at risk from floods, drought, encroaching deserts, wildfires and in Alaska, thawing permafrost.
U.S. officials have also said that climate change can burden the military by increasing the number of global humanitarian missions in which it participates.
The White House is holding a meeting on Feb. 22 in the situation room to discuss an upcoming executive order by Trump to set up the committee, made up of 12 or fewer people, said the document, dated Feb. 14. The document was first reported by the Washington Post.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the science of climate change, arguing that the causes and impacts are not yet settled. As a temporary blast of frigid cold hit the Midwest last month he said on Twitter “What the Hell is going on with Global Wa®ming. Please come back fast, we need you!”
Happer, who does not have a background in climate, has served on the NSC since 2018 as deputy assistant to the president for emerging technologies, and complained that carbon dioxide emissions have been maligned, a position strongly opposed by a vast majority of climate scientists.
Happer said on CNBC in 2014 that the “demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”
The White House did not have a comment on the document.
Francesco Femia, the co-founder of the Center for Climate & Security, a non-profit research and policy group, called the panel a “sham committee” that could put a chill on further analysis of climate risks from some members of military and intelligence agencies.
“I am worried there will be a reticence among some in the future to include those risks in their public reports for fear of having to deal with this political committee in the White House, because ultimately the heads of departments and agencies serve at the pleasure of the president,” Femia said.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish)