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James Mattis Admits Climate Change Is a Threat

That puts him at odds with many high-ranking officials in the Trump administration.
President Donald Trump greets Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump greets Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In an unpublished testimony to the Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense James Mattis called climate change a security threat for which United States military leaders need to prepare, ProPublica reports. “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Mattis wrote to the committee after his confirmation hearing. This marks the first time Mattis has said that climate change is a real and current threat as a member of the Trump administration—an assertion that puts him at odds with many of his new colleagues.

Reince Priebus, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, confirmed in November Trump’s default position that man-made climate change is “a bunch of bunk.” Priebus himself has said that “radical Islamic terrorism, rather than climate change, is the biggest threat to national security.”

“I think we all care about our planet, but melting icebergs aren’t beheading Christians in the Middle East,” Priebus said at a 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. Priebus is just one of several high-ranking members in the Trump administration to either outright deny climate change or downplay humans’ role in it.

  • The conservative website Brietbart News has long circulated global warming hoax theories while Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon was chairman. In the past, Bannon himself has suggested that climate action and environmental regulations are bad for the economy. Citing unnamed sources, the New York Times reported earlier this month that Bannon is urging Trump to follow through on his campaign promise to abandon the Paris Agreement.
  • Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke has said that climate change is neither a hoax nor a sure thing—and that we shouldn’t “dismantle America’s power and energy on a maybe.”
  • Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency and a vocal climate skeptic, has sued the agency he now runs more than a dozen times. Just last week Pruitt directly questioned the role of carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere, a basic tenet of climate science. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he said on CNBC.
  • Secretary of Energy Rick Perry had a paid position on the board of the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, Climate Central reported, and he “previously campaigned for president on a policy platform that included eliminating the department.”
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously said that, while global warming is real, fears of its effects are overblown, though more recently he changed course and admitted that climate change requires “serious” action.

Roughly 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that humans are largely to blame. And while only 48 percent of Americans agree that global warming is due to human activities, about two-thirds believe climate scientists should have a say in climate-related policy matters.