According to reports by E&E News and the New York Times, a leading voice for climate denialism at the White House’s National Security Council, William Happer, has stepped down from his position after a failed effort to suppress climate change analysis from U.S. science, intelligence, defense and other agencies. Speaking to Lisa Friedman at the New York Times, Francesco Femia, CEO of the Council on Strategic Risks and Co-Founder of the Center for Climate and Security, stated:
“Someone who denies the existence of nuclear weapons or terrorism would never be given a senior position at the National Security Council, and that should have been true on climate change, which is recognized across parties as a security threat to the United States,” said Francesco Femia, co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security, a nonpartisan think tank. “So while this is good news, he never should have been there in the first place.”
This latest development reflects a growing bi-partisan consensus across the U.S. national security community that climate change is a significant security risk, and commensurate measures should be advanced to address it. In this context, it seems untenable for a senior national security official to hold such an extreme position, and keep their job. Nonetheless, celebrations are premature, stated CCS Co-Founder Francesco Femia:
“When your military, intelligence and science agencies are all warning about the security risks of climate change, you simply can’t have a climate denier in a senior position at the National Security Council. So this is a welcome development. However, heaping too much praise on this is like praising the arsonist for dumping a bucket of water on the house he just burned down. The real test is what – substantively – happens next.”
Happer’s departure follows a July 9th story in E&E News affirming that a proposed White House/ National Security Council “adversarial” climate review panel he was spearheading had been “indefinitely delayed – i.e. was effectively dead.
A Failed Effort to Suppress Climate Change Analysis Within the U.S. Government
The idea of an “adversarial panel” designed to suppress climate change reports from the US government first came to light on February 20 when the Washington Post published a story regarding a leaked White House memorandum detailing a draft Executive Order to create the panel (dubbed “The Presidential Committee on Climate Security”), and an upcoming Deputies Committee Meeting to build internal support for it. The draft suggested that certain White House officials were unhappy with the level of review U.S. government climate science reports, such as the National Climate Assessment (one of the most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific reports in the world), and U.S. intelligence assessments on climate change (such as found in the Director of National Intelligence’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, an authoritative assessment drawing from 17 U.S. intelligence agencies) had received, and wished to create a panel, or standing committee, of hand-picked scientists to provide an “adversarial review” of those documents (a non-scientific process known colloquially as “red-teaming”).
The effort to create the panel was led by William Happer, a known climate denier who has argued that more CO2 is good for humanity, and who once likened the demonization of CO2 to the demonization of the Jews in Nazi Germany. In response, the Center for Climate and Security’s Francesco Femia noted to the Washington Post:
“This is the equivalent of setting up a committee on nuclear-weapons proliferation and having someone lead it who doesn’t think nuclear weapons exist…It’s honestly a blunt-force political tool designed to shut the national security community up on climate change.”
That same day (February 20), the Center for Climate and Security issued a strong public criticism of the proposed panel, including criticisms from ten of its top military and security leadership. Admiral Paul Zukunft, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret), Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Commandant of the Coast Guard, stated:
“For over 7 decades, our Nation has been the instrument of change in establishing world order in the face of fascism, communism and terrorism. The human toll from these “isms” has been catastrophic and those of us who have served in public office and in uniform can be rightfully proud for taking decisive action to right those wrongs. But to deny the trajectory of the global climate defies America’s bias for action as a catalyst for change among world leaders.”
See all of the quotes below from that release below, as they are worth a read.*
This strong criticism from senior member of the retired military and national security community was followed by reports on February 24 that the draft Executive Order, in its initial form, would be scrapped, that defense and intelligence assessments might be exempt from the “red team/ blue team” attack, but that a panel of some kind, applying non-scientific review principles to U.S. government-produced climate science, was still being considered.
Soon after on March 5, the Center for Climate and Security, in partnership with the American Security Project, issued an extraordinary letter signed by 58 senior military, national security and intelligence leaders (which was turned around only 4 working days), condemning the proposed panel. The letter stated:
“…we are deeply concerned by reports that National Security Council officials are considering forming a committee to dispute and undermine military and intelligence judgments on the threat posed by climate change. This includes second-guessing the scientific sources used to assess the threat, such as the rigorously peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment, and applying that to national security policy. Imposing a political test on reports issued by the science agencies, and forcing a blind spot onto the national security assessments that depend on them, will erode our national security.”
A few months passed, and unconfirmed reports in early June indicated that the panel idea might have been shelved, but that a face-saving measure was being considered.
Shortly thereafter, the Washington Post and the New York Times broke a related story about the White House’s role in trying to suppress a State Department intelligence assessment on climate change. In response, the Center for Climate and Security’s Francesco Femia stated:
“This is an intentional failure of the White House to perform a core duty: inform the American public of the threats we face. It’s dangerous and unacceptable. Any attempt to suppress information on the security risks of climate change threatens to leave the American public vulnerable and unsafe.”
This was followed by an E&E News story on July 9, confirming that the White House climate review panel has been effectively shelved.
The seemingly final nail in the coffin for this extraordinary effort to suppress climate change analysis seems to be William Happer’s departure today, on September 11.
“Mr. Happer is one small part of a larger effort to prevent the United States from comprehensively dealing with a significant risk to its security: climate change” said the Center for Climate and Security’s Co-Founder, Francesco Femia. “This is a clear loss for that effort. But let’s not celebrate just yet. Climate change is major challenge, and it’ll take far more than a minor personnel change to deal with it.”
* Quotes from February 20, 2019 Center for Climate and Security press release in response to the Washington Post’s story on the White House climate review panel.
“Looks like someone at the White House doesn’t like the fact that our defense and intelligence agencies are concerned about the security implications of climate change,” said John Conger, Director of the Center for Climate and Security and former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment. “So they want to set up a politically-led panel to undermine the credibility of military and security experts. They don’t seem to understand that to the military and to the broader security community, this is an issue of risk, readiness, and resilience, not politics. The military doesn’t have the luxury of deciding to ignore certain threats because a politician doesn’t find them convenient.”
“For over 7 decades, our Nation has been the instrument of change in establishing world order in the face of fascism, communism and terrorism. The human toll from these “isms” has been catastrophic and those of us who have served in public office and in uniform can be rightfully proud for taking decisive action to right those wrongs. But to deny the trajectory of the global climate defies America’s bias for action as a catalyst for change among world leaders.” – Admiral Paul Zukunft, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret), Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Commandant of the Coast Guard
“Our intelligence, defense and science agencies stretching back across many Administrations, both Republican and Democrat – including the Trump Administration itself are closely aligned. The science and facts on climate change are well-established and do not need an administration influenced review by an NSC headed panel. What we do need are practical and pragmatic policy choices today to fix the problem. Americans are affected everyday by climate change and will see through any thinly-veiled political attempt to say they are not. An NSC-headed panel to address solutions is what we need.” – General Ron Keys, US Air Force (Ret), Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Commander of Air Combat Command
“This is not a real peer review committee – it’s a political review committee,” said Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy (Ret), Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Oceanographer of the Navy. “It’s designed to try to scare our intelligence, defense and science professionals into doing and saying nothing about this pressing threat. I don’t think it will succeed. In fact, I think it would be an embarrassment, like other panels before it.”
“It’s hard to stop good people from doing good work – especially those in the defense, intelligence and science agencies of our government,” said Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist with the Center for Climate and Security and former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security). “One way to try to stop them is through bullying. This proposed ‘adversarial’ committee is a bully committee. And whether it succeeds or not, it will hurt our national security. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.”
“With VERY few exceptions, national security experts and earth scientists know that climate change is real, and it is a real threat to national security – now and in the future. This is well documented and well-publicized. There is probably more disagreement in the national security community about the existence of UFOs than there is about this.”– Rear Admiral Jonathan White, USN (Ret), Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Oceanographer of the Navy
“The proposed committee appears to be a politically-motivated attempt to discourage our intelligence, defense and science agencies from doing their jobs,” said Captain Steve Brock, USN (Ret), Senior Advisor, the Council on Strategic Risks and the Center for Climate and Security. “If realized, this committee could force a blind spot onto those whose job it is to defend this country, and that could have dangerous national security repercussions. I hope the White House reconsiders, and dumps this bad idea.”
“We would welcome a rigorous and independent panel of credible climate and national security experts to study the security implications of climate change” said Francesco Femia, Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Strategic Risks and Co-Founder of the Center for Climate and Security. “However, this is not that. The proposed committee is intended to provide an ‘adversarial’ review of already rigorously-reviewed reports from the intelligence, defense, science and presumably other agencies, and will be chaired by a vocal climate skeptic that reports to the President. Therefore, it will be neither independent nor rigorous.”
“This effort meets the definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. No matter who is the President, our national security agencies have uniformly recognized the security threat from climate change. That question has been answered. Now is the time for action to address the risks.” – Alice Hill, Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Senior Director for Resilience Policy on the National Security Council
“It’s important to note the person behind this attempt to chill our defense agencies from understanding and managing climate risk is Dr. Will Happer. Dr. Happer testified before Congress in December 2015 that the world has too little Carbon Dioxide and is too cold – an extreme, fringe view even for the tiny number of scientists who call themselves climate skeptics. This is a clumsy attempt to force the entire federal government to conform to a bizarre view thoroughly rejected by the vast majority of scientists.” – Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy (Ret), Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Oceanographer of the Navy
“Even if this committee is successful for a year or two suppressing the acknowledgment of a changing climate as a security risk, the risks will continue to accelerate. The climate does not care what the White House thinks or what Executive Orders are signed – it only responds to the laws of physics. The temperatures will continue to warm, the ice will continue to melt and the seas will continue to rise. And our county will be less secure if we prevent our very own federal agencies from responding to this threat.” – Rear Admiral David Titley, US Navy (Ret), Senior Member of the Advisory Board at the Center for Climate and Security and former Oceanographer of the Navy
“This is the equivalent of setting up a committee on nuclear weapons proliferation and having someone lead it who doesn’t think nuclear weapons exist,” said Francesco Femia, Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Strategic Risks and Co-Founder of the Center for Climate and Security in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s honestly a blunt force political tool designed to shut the national security community up on climate change.”