Scott Pruitt and global warming – John Reilly

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer John Reilly

Many news outlets are questioning how long Scott Pruitt will hold onto his job at the EPA as criticism of his spending continues.  However, even if Pruitt loses his position, it’s likely that his views and positions will continue to live on at the EPA and elsewhere—especially if, as expected, his deputy director were to take over. This, of course, is cause for concern. It may therefore be worthwhile to consider the continued resistance to views on global warming.

For example, The Chicago Tribune recently reported that Pruitt has once again questioned the scientific consensus that rising levels of carbon dioxide from human-fueled activity are warming the planet.

But now, according to the Tribune, he’s also taking a different tack. Even if climate change is occurring, as the vast majority of scientists say it is, Pruitt is questioning whether a warmer atmosphere might not be bad for human beings.  While it is unclear exactly why Pruitt thinks things won’t be so bad for humans, it’s worth considering his arguments.

Indeed there is evidence that some things may do better with global warming—as Pruitt has suggested —poleward areas where the growing season is short, would likely benefit from longer growing seasons and crops could benefit from higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. In general, CO2 enhances growth and can increase water use efficiency.

But low lying coastal areas, such as Florida and the Gulf coast will surely suffer from sea level rise.  Amplified by likely stronger tropical storms—some low lying island nations are almost certainly destined to disappear even if we hold the temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees.  With large populations centers on the US coasts and coasts around the world, its pretty clear that coastal damage will outweigh the benefit from longer growing seasons in poleward areas.  In addition, crops toward the equator including southern areas of the U. S. would likely suffer.

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