After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) grilled CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo on climate change during his January 12 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, Fox News responded to Harris’ inquiries with mocking condescension. But the fact is, the intelligence community has taken climate change very seriously under both the Bush and Obama administrations, and Harris has every reason to press Pompeo on whether that will remain the case in the Trump administration.
During the hearing, Harris began by asking Pompeo whether he has “any reason to doubt the assessment” of CIA analysts that climate change is one of the “deeper causes of rising instability in the world.” Pompeo responded that it’s the CIA’s role to gather foreign intelligence and understand global threats, and that “to the extent that changes in climatic activity are part of that foreign intelligence collection task, we will deliver that information to you all and to the president.”
Harris then pointed out that Pompeo has previously “questioned the scientific consensus on climate change,” and asked whether he has any reason to doubt NASA’s statement that multiple studies show “97 percent or more of actively published climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” Pompeo responded by claiming that his political commentary has been primarily focused on critiquing the effectiveness of climate policies, and he added that he hasn’t “looked at NASA's findings in particular” and couldn’t give Harris “any judgement about that” during the hearing.
Pompeo also made this very telling remark: “I, frankly, as the director of CIA, would prefer today not to get into the details of climate debate and science. It just seems my role is going to be so different and unique from that.” In doing so, Pompeo signaled that climate change will not be a focus of the CIA under his leadership, which “could leave the CIA without crucial context as it evaluates threats around the world,” as Climate Central reported.
At the same time, Pompeo’s remark has inspired several Fox News pundits to mock Harris for choosing to ask about climate change -- beginning with Fox News contributor and Libre Initiative spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy, who like Pompeo himself, has deep ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers.
On the January 12 edition of Outnumbered, Campos-Duffy declared that Harris had asked a “dumb question.” Later that evening, The Five co-host Eric Bolling said Harris’ question was “ridiculous,” adding, “This is a spy agency. They are supposed to gather intel on bad guys, not the weather.” And on the January 13 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy joked, “Maybe [Harris] thinks the C in CIA stands for climate, but it doesn't. It stands for Central.”
What these Fox pundits either don’t understand or are unwilling to acknowledge is that evaluating climate change impacts is a critical component of the CIA’s mission. According to a September 2016 report prepared by the National Intelligence Council and coordinated with the U.S. intelligence community, “Climate change and its resulting effects are likely to pose wide-ranging national security challenges for the United States and other countries over the next 20 years.” As Harris mentioned, current CIA director John Brennan has also spoken to the importance of the agency accounting for climate change, stating in a 2015 speech that climate change is aggravating existing security problems and “is a potential source of crisis itself.”
And lest you think that only the Obama CIA views climate change as a priority for the intelligence community, a 2008 National Intelligence Assessment completed under the Bush administration also concluded that climate change poses a national security threat, as Grist reported at the time.
This is far from the first time that Fox News has dismissed the national security implications of climate change, but if the CIA itself adopts that misguided view, it will be a dramatic shift that should concern all Americans.