It’s a sad state of affairs when it’s news that a nominee to lead a science agency actually agrees with the science said agency produces. But here we are.
On Wednesday, Barry Myers, Trump’s nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was asked numerous questions about his views on climate science during his Senate confirmation hearing. And while it felt like a bit of tooth pulling, he said he agreed with the widely accepted reality that humans are the main cause of climate change.
Myers—who is widely expected to be confirmed despite some reservations about his previous statements—also vouched to uphold scientific integrity policies and to let scientists at the agency continue their climate science work free of political influence. Nonetheless, it took some prodding for Myers to say he accepts the science of climate change and he never actually uttered the words “climate change” in his response.
Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass) had the most in-depth exchange with Myers, who currently runs Accuweather, about his climate views. He started his questioning using the climate change report put out earlier this month by the federal government (a report, it should be noted, that contradicts numerous statements made by other Trump appointees) as a jumping off point.
“Do you agree that humans are the main cause of climate change?” he asked.
“I have read the reports and I have no reason to disagree with them,” Myers responded.
A bit of evasion, sure, but it’s a start. Markey pressed, asking, “so does that mean you agree with them?”
“I agree with the reports and that they’re based on quality peer-reviewed research, which is something I strongly support,” Myers continued.
Still not quite there but getting warmer.
“So you agree humans are the main cause of climate change?” Markey asked.
What followed was a pregnant pause where you could almost see the wheels turning in Myers head.
“Is that what you’re saying?” Markey pressed.
“That is what I’m saying,” Myers responded.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the science, some of which is produced by the scientists Myers would oversee at NOAA. It’s about as tepid as Accuweather’s statement on climate change:
“Global climate change is a matter of intense concern and public importance. There can be little doubt that human beings influence the world’s climate. At the same time, our knowledge of the extent, progress, mechanisms and results of global climate change is still incomplete.”
Myers response was certainly a few steps above EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s verbal gymnastics on climate change during his confirmation hearing, and maybe a step beyond the answers from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry during their hearings, where they acknowledged that humans were playing a role in causing climate change while still saying we needed better science. And let’s not even bring Trump’s NASA pick into the conversation.
Myers couldn’t be bothered to utter the words “climate change” until later in his hearing in an exchange with Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) about the Department of Defense’s view of climate change as a national security issue.
Overall, the hearing didn’t exactly inspire confidence that Myers would be a climate science champion. And there’s a distinct chance he could use the budget as a way to stifle research. The Trump administration has proposed slashing NOAA’s climate science budget by more than 30 percent.
“I understand the nature of the cuts, I understand why they were done,” Myers said, referring to NOAA-wide cuts. “As a member of the administration, I will appropriately carry out the budget as allocated by Congress.”
And with Republicans who are hostile to climate science controlling Congress, it might not matter what Myers thinks about climate change if there’s no money to fund research.