Fox & Friends hosts EPA chief Scott Pruitt, misrepresents new climate study

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was a guest Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump's favorite program. The show's co-hosts used the occasion to misrepresent a new scientific study on climate change and cast doubt on the impact of climate change on hurricanes.

Near the top of the segment, co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that “a new British study finds climate change is not as threatening to our planet as previously thought.” Later she brought the study up again, citing an article in the British Telegraph newspaper: “The Telegraph had an article this morning that said climate change poses less of an immediate threat. Scientists got their modeling wrong. Now, let's talk about the Paris climate agreement.” Pruitt then launched into criticism of the Paris agreement.

Earhardt was referring to a paper published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, which argues that it is realistically possible to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels. Limiting warming to no more than 1.5 C is a stretch goal that the international community agreed to at the Paris climate talks in 2015. Many scientists argue that such a limit is needed if we're going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but previous research has indicated that we have a very slim chance of staying under the limit. This new study reached the conclusion that the goal is achievable and the world has more time than previously believed to avoid the most dangerous climate change scenarios.

But it's a clear misrepresentation of the study to say it finds that climate change is less threatening than previously believed. The authors take the threat of climate change very seriously and state in their paper that dramatic action is needed to meet to the 1.5 C goal, including stronger targets under the Paris agreement. They write that “limiting warming to 1.5 C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation.” (Other climate scientists are skeptical of the new paper and suggest it might be overly optimistic.)

Pruitt also used his guest appearance to push his pet idea of a “red team/blue team” debate on climate change, which would invite fringe scientists who question the consensus on climate change to argue their points on a level playing field with mainstream scientists, even though the fringe scientists represent only about 3 percent of actively publishing climate scientists. As Media Matters reported previously, Pruitt and right-wing media figures have worked in tandem to promote the “red team/blue team” idea.

Though Pruitt's Fox & Friends appearance happened as Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, was headed for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Pruitt made no mention of the hurricane. Fox co-host Brian Kilmeade brought up the topic of hurricanes at the beginning of the segment, but just to say that “liberals” are “constantly blaming climate change” for such storms and that the Trump administration is trying to “challenge that theory.” Kilmeade's comments continued a pattern of Fox hosts dismissing or mocking connections between climate change and hurricanes; they did this repeatedly during hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Media Matters found. Climate scientists have explained that climate change can make hurricanes stronger and more destructive.

This Fox & Friends appearance was just the latest in a long string of Pruitt guest spots on right-wing media shows, as Media Matters and Mother Jones have documented.

From the September 19 edition of Fox & Friends:

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): With more major hurricanes like Maria on the horizon and liberals constantly blaming climate change, the Trump administration is looking for ways to challenge that theory to find out the real impact of these storms, if any.

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): This, as a new study, a new British study finds climate change is not as threatening to our planet as previously thought.

STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Here to help explain what's going on with the federal government, we got the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.


Well, tell us a little bit about how the Trump administration is looking to create a red team, because in the military they do the red team/blue team thing to test different models.

SCOTT PRUITT: Yeah, so the red team/blue team approach, as you’ve indicated, is something that puts people, experts, in a room and let them debate an issue. I mean, with this climate change, we know certain things. We know the climate’s always changing. We know that humans contribute to it in some way. To what degree, to measure that with precision is very difficult. But we don't know is, are we in a situation where it's an existential threat? Do we -- is it unsustainable with respect to what we see presently? Let’s have a debate about that. Bring scientists in, red team scientists, blue team scientists, have a discussion about the importance of this issue so the American people deserve that type of objective, transparent discussion.

DOOCY: Who are the red team scientists?

PRUITT: The red team scientists are the ones that don't take for granted, that you see across the spectrum, that the climate is just in this unsustainable path of existential threat, and that humans are 99 percent responsible for that. I mean, we need to have a meaningful debate on what we are facing as a country and as internationally. And I think that’s one of the things that's lost in this discussion. We in this country have done more to reduce our CO2 footprint than most countries around the globe. In fact, we’ve reduced our CO2 footprint by over 18 percent from 2000 to 2014.

DOOCY: Through innovation.

PRUITT: Through innovation and technology, largely through the conversion to natural gas in the generation of electricity. Now we burn coal cleaner in this country. Japan has 45 what they call ultra-critical, super-critical coal generation facilities. We have one. So we are doing, I think, a really good job as a country trying to advance innovation and technology to reduce our CO2 footprint.

KILMEADE: You would think that people would be happy with that, but many in Hollywood and many on the left aren't, including one Stevie Wonder, who at a telethon thought this would be a good thing to say:


He said anyone who questions that there is global warming must be blind or ignorant.

PRUITT: Yeah, look, I mean, no one questions that the climate changes. No one questions that we contribute to it in some way.

DOOCY: The world is getting warmer.

PRUITT: But that's not the question overall. The question is: As we look at this issue, how much do we contribute to it? What can we do about it? The other thing that's lost in this whole debate is: What tools are in the toolbox for the EPA to deal with this? I mean, I think folks forget about that we only have the power that Congress gives us through, what? Statute. The Clean Air Act. The past administration tried twice to regulate CO2, struck out twice. The Clean Power Plan was actually stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court in an unprecedented way. It matters the power given to us by Congress. If you ask those in 1990 that amended the Clean Air Act -- [former] Congressman [John] Dingell being one of those, not the most conservative member of Congress. He said it would be a glorious mess quote, unquote, to regulate GHG [greenhouse gases] under the Clean Air Act. So, we have to ask, one: What’s going on from a scientific perspective? What do we know, what don't we know? Which is the red team/blue team exercise. And then we go to the next step, which is what? What are we empowered to do about it? What tools are in the toolbox to address it?

EARHARDT: I think it’s great. Skeptics can talk to these scientists and they can challenge each other. That's what they're supposed to do.

PRUITT: For all the world to see.

EARHARDT: That’s right, The Telegraph had an article this morning that said climate change poses less of an immediate threat. Scientists got their modeling wrong. Now, let's talk about the Paris climate agreement. What’s the president’s stance on this now? Because [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson said, he’s kind of alluded to the fact that he might be changing his mind. Is there truth to that?

PRUITT: I mean, the president has been steadfast. And I tell you, the courage it took to stand in the Rose Garden in June and say to the world that he was going to put America's interests first and not be apologetic to the rest of the world. I mean, when you look at the Paris agreement, China, India, and Russia, what steps did they take to reduce CO2 from that agreement, compared to the United States? As we talked about a minute ago, we are already reducing our CO2 by substantial percentages through innovation and technology. India: no obligations until they receive over $2.5 trillion of money. China: no obligations until the year 2030. So this was not about what reduction in CO2 --

DOOCY: So the plan is still to pull out unless we could renegotiate?

PRUITT: Look, the president has been consistent. We’re going to make sure that we engage internationally.

EARHARDT: And make it fair.

KILMEADE: But not with that deal.

PRUITT: Not be apologetic about what we’ve done as a country, and make sure America's interests are put first. That's very, very encouraging; it took tremendous courage for him to do that.

KILMEADE: But let me ask you something: In the big picture, we have to still write checks to these --

PRUITT: No, that’s stopped.

KILMEADE: Because I heard we couldn't pull out right away.

PRUITT: The checks, the moneys stopped with the past administration. In fact, the past administration transferred moneys in January right before President Trump was inaugurated. That has stopped altogether.

EARHARDT: What do you mean by these checks? Who were we paying?

PRUITT: There was a Green Climate Fund internationally that the United States committed to over 30 percent of the moneys. And so it was quite something and transferred from other accounts, it was -- but that’s stopped with President Trump.

DOOCY: All right. Getting answers from the guy at the top. The EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.