NASA chief ‘evolved’ on climate science; skeptics emailed to complain

Prominent climate change skeptics, including one who now advises the Trump White House, sent NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine a chain of emails last year blasting his evolving views on climate change and humanity’s role in it.

Bridenstine was copied on the emails, where it was suggested he “sidestep” the climate issue in the future.

“I fully believe and know that the climate is changing. I also know that we, human beings, are contributing to it in a major way,” Bridenstine said a May 2018 meeting with NASA employees.

President Donald Trump has described climate change as a “hoax” and the administration has sought to roll back regulations of greenhouse gases. Man-made increases of those gases are causing a rise in global temperatures and associated impacts such as sea-level rise.

“[H]ow Bridenstein (sic) or anyone else can say that humans are a major cause of warming is a puzzle to me,” the email chain between William Happer, who now counsels national security adviser John Bolton on climate change issues, and Thomas Wysmuller of the conservative Heartland Institute, states.

The emails from May 2018 were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund through the Freedom of Information Act and first reported by the Associated Press. The documents released Friday do not show Bridenstine engaging in the conversation. Happer joined the White House in September 2018.

As a congressman from Oklahoma, Bridenstine claimed in 2013 that global temperatures had “stopped rising 10 years ago” and dismissed the Obama administration’s spending on climate science.

But as NASA administrator, Bridenstine acknowledged that his views on the topic have evolved. He endorsed the findings of the National Climate Assessment — which included contributions from his agency — and told Congress in May 2018 the report “clearly stated it is extremely likely — is the language they use — that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming.”

In that town hall, Bridenstine was more specific, saying he has “evolved.”

“Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. We’re putting it into the atmosphere in volumes that we haven’t seen, and that greenhouse gas is warming the planet. That is absolutely happening, and we are responsible for it,” he said.

Happer, meanwhile, has previously compared the “demonization of carbon dioxide” to the Holocaust.

“The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,” Happer said on CNBC in 2014. “Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.”

Happer wrote in the email that Bridenstine’s position is “a puzzle to me.”

“Catastrophic SLR [sea level rise] and runaway temperature rise is part of the nonsense, and he will be wise to systematically sidestep it for the short term,” Happer wrote in the May 2018 email conversation.

The emails from Happer and Wysmuller suggest they believe that the NASA head had “entered a hornets nest without a smoke pot and I hope will methodically let the NASA ‘hive’ settle down.”

Asked about the email, Jim Lakely of the Heartland Institute said, “It is wrong to suggest that NASA’s public statements on climate change are above criticism.”

Representatives from NASA and the National Security Council did not respond to requests for comment.