While the West Coast Burns, NOAA Welcomes a Climate Change Denier Onboard

A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020.
A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear fire in Oroville, California on September 9, 2020.
Photo: Josh Edelson (Getty Images)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently hired David Legates, a climate change denier who’s previously maintained that the sun is to blame for global warming and that the ocean’s rising CO2 levels are fine because it means we get bigger crabs, for a top position at the agency. Meanwhile, millions of acres on the West Coast continue to be incinerated by so-called “climate fires.”


Yeah, I’m every bit as confused as you are.

Legates, a professor of climatology at the University of Delaware, confirmed to NPR on Saturday that he’d been brought on as the agency’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction. It’s not immediately clear what his specific duties would be, but that mouthful of a title implies he’ll be reporting directly to Dr. Neil Jacobs, the acting head of the agency, who is responsible for allocating NOAA’s $5.49 billion annual federal budget to support its weather and climate prediction infrastructure.


And if you weren’t already sold on how terrible an idea this is yet, I thought I’d list out some of Legates’ greatest hits over the years:

  • While working as a state climatologist for Delaware in the late 2000s, Governor Ruth Ann Minner, sent him a letter essentially telling him to stop using his state-sanctioned podium to spout unproven crap against climate science. He resigned a few years later in 2011.
  • That same year, he appeared in a video for a faith-based YouTube channel to support the discredited theory that it’s the sun’s natural cycles, and not humans, that are fueling unprecedented temperature rises on the planet.
  • And, as I mentioned before, he argued at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference that the appearance of jumbo crabs as a result of the ocean’s rising CO2 levels means this global warming thing can’t be all bad, right?

Legates is also a longtime affiliate of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that has spent millions of dollars to disparage scientific evidence of climate change as untrustworthy and inaccurate—including research from the very agency he will now be working for, NOAA, as NPR points out. 

“David Legates is a true climate scientist and will bring a great deal of much-needed science to NOAA,” Steve Milloy, a Heartland Institute board member and part of President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, told the outlet.


Other climate science experts are substantially less enthused.

“At a time when those impacts are playing out before our very eyes in the form of unprecedented wildfires out West and super-storms back East, I cannot imagine a more misguided decision than to appoint someone like Legates to a position of leadership at an agency that is tasked with assessing the risks we face from extreme weather events,” Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview with NPR.


As apocalyptic as it may seem right now, scientists say the world is on track for roughly 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) of heating, so things can still get a hell of a lot worse—and will without decisive, comprehensive reform.

Global carbon emissions have to fall by more than 7% each year or else we risk further catastrophic warming, i.e. more freak back-to-back hurricanes, more exploding tundras, and more unprecedented weather-related calamities. So the fact that the U.S., one of the world’s leading contributors to the crisis, is hiring officials who refuse to believe there’s even a crisis to begin with isn’t exactly encouraging. NOAA might as well replace its logo with the “This Is Fine” dog comic at this rate.



Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance games reporter. Full-time disaster bi.

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Like I said in my answer to the article “Where do we go from here?”

Straight to hell. Teh stupid compels us.