Talking past each other: Trump Pick for Top Environment Post: Carbon Dioxide Is 'The Gas of Life'

InsideClimateNews (via Twitter) sez President Donald Trump has picked Kathleen Hartnett White, a former Texas regulator and unapologetic advocate of expanding U.S. fossil fuel production... White has argued against the federal government's "endangerment finding" that carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas feeding worldwide climate change, is a danger to human health and the environment. "Argued against" is a link leading to a piece by KHW entitled Restrain the imperial EPA. Which begins The growing power of the administrative state is the defining feature of this era. Federal regulations now touch almost every area of American life, and almost all economic activity. Aggressive regulatory bodies like the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) increasingly impose these mandates by seizing what is the exclusive legislative power of Congress.

So you can if you like complain about stuff like Carbon dioxide is an odorless, invisible, harmless and completely natural gas lacking any characteristic of a pollutant. It doesn't contaminate or defile the air, as actual pollutants do. Ambient levels of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe have zero adverse health effects, in contrast to high levels of genuine pollutants listed in the Clean Air Act like lead and mercury but that kinda misses the point. I think she has a genuine principled belief in the restraint of govt, just like you have a genuine principled belief in doing something about GW. If you don't - and I rather sense that most of my readers don't - think that regulatory overreach is a problem, then you'll dismiss her merely as a denialist as ICN does. Meanwhile, she will dismiss you as a bunch of pinko-leftie-crypto-greenies, and the total lack of dialogue will continue.

Update: Bart rather regrettably falls for this. Bart quotes The Graun, but notice most of that article is just John Gibbons ranting. The only bit of any value is just a ref to Rejecting Climate Change: Not Science Denial, but Regulation Phobia. The paper itself I think is flawed and I might even blog it [update: I did]; notice the icky last para of the abstract.


* Economist: An assessment of the White House’s progress on deregulation: Donald Trump has blocked new regulations with ease. Repealing old ones will be harder
Paid to? CH on Jerry Taylor and the generic topic of are-people-that-disagree-bad?
* [2020] The Trump Regulatory Record by Thomas Firey


Bart Verheggen said...

Hi William,

We both seem to agree on the main point of the Guardian piece, namely that contrarians often have "a genuine principled belief in the restraint of govt".

The problem of course is that rather than suggesting another approach to the problem (e.g. requiring less government regulation) they go on to reject climate science and deny or downplay that there's a problem that needs addressing at all.

I think you're right that in order to have a constructive conversation with each other you need to understand where the other is coming from, and in this case that would mean understanding the "genuine principled belief in the restraint of govt" (your words).

The Guardian piece addresses the question of why many otherwise intelligent people would reject climate science, and even though it prob doesn't provide you or me with new information, I thought it was well articulated and as such deserved wider attention.

Your point seems to be more about a tangential topic: how to best find common ground with people like that. An important point indeed, but not the point of this article. It actually lays the groundwork for such you might argue, since it tries to describe the where the rejection of science is coming from. Such insight is needed if you want to address it, either directly with the person in question, or indirectly with other in the public debate.

William M. Connolley said...

Um. I think we can both agree that "a genuine principled belief in the restraint of govt" is part of many people's thinking, but I can't agree that is the main point of an article titled "Climate deniers want to protect the status quo that made them rich" and which contains more of the same. Indeed, I can't find the sentiment you consider to be the main point of the article anywhere in it.

What text do you find in the article that suggests that contrarians are ever motivated by "principle", rather than self interest?

> The Guardian piece addresses the question of why many otherwise intelligent people would reject climate science... well articulated and as such deserved wider attention. If you were suggesting the Graun article is typical of the beliefs *about* contrarians by "believers" then I'd agree; but I suspect that's not your point.

We are reading the same Graun article aren't we? You views and mine seem so divergent I find it hard to believe. I mean https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/22/climate-deniers-protect-status-quo-that-made-them-rich.

I think the article is strongly biased towards demonising anyone who doesn't agree with GW. That bias starts with the headline, continues with the "scene-setting" para ("the inaugural meeting of Ireland’s first climate denial group..."), the "we’ve all collectively responded: ‘Ah, fuck ’em!’". It then gives some semi-plausible text of various "explanations", but none of that is well done; and leans heavily on one paper that doesn't seem to be very good.

The Graun article is written to be read by the Choir, and would be rejected by the not-Choir. And it only serves to confirm the Choir in their own prejudices.

PaulS said...

I'm not sure I understand what solution you're proposing in this specific case?

Hartnett-White is not just opposed to tackling carbon emissions through EPA regulations. She's fundamentally opposed to all forms of action against climate change (against fossil fuels more specifically). She's a signatory and regular associate of the Cornwall Alliance for God's sake (pun intended).

I can't see how any form of constructive dialogue would be possible.

Hank Roberts said...


They know which side of their bread the oleo is on.
And they know what taxing carbon would cut into.

Tom said...

The only response necessary is the old saw 'the dose makes the poison.'

Kevin O'Neill said...

I'm unclear as to your point when you write: "So you can if you like complain about stuff like Carbon dioxide is an odorless, invisible, harmless and completely natural gas lacking any characteristic of a pollutant. "

Are you agreeing with her? If not, then why is it talking past her to point out she's wrong?

If the various federal agencies don't produce the regulations, then who will? What is the 'correct' number of regulations? Are more regulations produced at the Federal, state, or county/municipality levels of government? Which level of government should, if any, regulate CO2?

Don't we have a name for countries that have no effective regulations (i.e., failed states)?

crandles said...

>"Are you agreeing with her? If not, then why is it talking past her to point out she's wrong?"

Obviously William was not agreeing with her. Q2: 'you can if you like', 'but that kinda misses the point'. What more need to be said than William has already said?

You then go on to address the regulation issues, so it seems you haven't missed the point.

If you are still unclear:

If she is a principled libertarian, she should (if listening) respond to questions about correct number and government level of regulations. Will she or is that just a smoke screen to appear principled when actually just wanting no action on CO2? If more important people pushed her on these regulation issues, such that she had to reply, maybe we would have a better chance of seeing and get either get some dialog or see why we can dismiss those views. Whereas if everyone continues to go for the CO2 is a pollutant angle she can continue to shrug it off and still appear to be a principled libertarian with no effective dialog.


The left coast has put a caltrop in the path of the Gas Of Life bandwagon by authorizing University of California bio labs to use CO2 to euthanize lab rats and other small furry creatures.

Fortunately there was no mention of mustelids in the eukase, let alone that dread Megalopygid,
the Flannel Moth Pussy Caterpillar