Talking Points

The Huffington Post has obtained an internal memo from the EPA (under the leadership of Scott Pruitt) revealing what it thinks are the right “talking points” about climate change that can be “used across all Program and Regional Offices.”

The main point of these new “talking points” is to downplay global warming, chiefly by resorting to what I call the “know-nothing meme” — keep telling them we don’t really know anything. Yes something is happening, but we don’t really know anything about what the impact will be or what to do about it — if anything! Yes we’ve done extensive reserach, but we don’t really know anything because their are gaps in our understanding. We need to strive for a better understanding! Encourage more study and open debate, because we don’t really know anything.

What Scott Pruitt really doesn’t want his people to admit about global warming is that it’s real, it’s us, and it’s dangerous. Very dangerous. Of course there are gaps in our knowledge, plenty of them, but the fact that there’s a world of hurt headed our way and our actions will determine how bad it gets, isn’t one of them. If he admitted that, people might actually want to do something about it.

Here’s the text of the memo itself:

Dear Colleagues:

During the recent meeting of our Cross-EPA Work Group on Climate Adaptation, several individuals suggested it would be helpful to develop consistent messages about EPA’s climate adaptation efforts that could be used across all Program and Regional Offices. I’m pleased to report that the Office of Public Affairs (OPA) has developed a set of talking points about climate change that include several related to climate adaptation. These talking points were distributed today by Nancy Grantham (OPA) to the Communications Directors and the Regional Public Affairs Directors.

The following are the talking points distributed by OPA. I have highlighted those relating specifically to our adaptation work.

  • EPA recognizes the challenges that communities face in adapting to a changing climate.
  • EPA works with state, local, and tribal governments to improve infrastructure to protect against the consequences of climate change and natural disasters.
  • EPA also promotes science that helps inform states, municipalities, and tribes on how to plan for and respond to extreme events and environmental emergencies.
  • Moving forward, EPA will continue to advance its climate adaptation efforts, and has reconvened the cross-EPA Adaptation Working Group in support of those efforts.
  • Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.
  • While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.
  • As a key regulatory voice, it is important for the Agency to strive for a better understanding of these gaps given their potential significant influence on our country’s domestic economic viability
  • Administrator Pruitt encourages an open, transparent debate on climate science.

    Best regards,

    Joel D. Scheraga, Ph.D
    Senior Advisor for Climate Adaptation
    Office of Policy

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    18 responses to “Talking Points

    1. Over here in Europe, especially in Germany, we don’t have this outrageous denying, at least not in the political and media mainstream, but people act according to the following mottos:
      – Don’t talk about it at all. (Mainstream Media)
      – If you can’t avoid, treat climate change as something unrelated to everything else, like a story from Mars or so. (Mainstream Media)
      – Say one thing and do another thing! (Government policy.)
      This is also pretty hard to tackle!

      • Hanns Maulwurf

        I don’t agree, that the media in germany don’t talk about climate change or talk about it as a unrelated thing.

        Just check out e.g. a search for “Climate change warming” in Zeit, a popular german newspaper:

        You find more than 1.000 articles on that topic. And currently the first few hits
        – Climate change will produce millions of climate refugees
        – Climate change causes extinction of May bugs
        – Sea level change is tightly coupled to all our emissions
        – Seal level rises and rises…
        – Big Oil on trial
        – European winter storms will not be more frequent despite climate change
        – 2017 is 3rd warmes year, even without an El Nino

        All articles are from the last 10 weeks. Sure, it could be more, but it is a general newspaper, and there aren’t so much “news” on that topic, so I would consider that as “don’t talk about it”.

        And I also would disagree, that the topic is treated as a “story from mars” that doesn’t affect us. Nearly all of the articles I listed above write about things, that will affect us. Sea level rise affects our coastline, refugees are a well-known-problem in Germany in recent time and the extinction of a species that was so abundant when I was a child, that matters to people.

        And regarding government policy:
        Sure, there could be done much more, and in the last years Germany lost a lot of the leading role it once had, but the overall direction is still in the right direction (even if to slow). And at least all political parties agree, that climate change is real, is a problem, and must be dealt with by reducing emissions.

        That is much more, than can be said about the Trump administration for example.

    2. Secretary Pruitt also encourages an open, transparent debate on heliocentrism and the theory of evolution.

    3. The argument that we should refrain from strong actions until we have certainty works for climate obstructors because the rhetoric of action versus inaction is inverted in this; not taking actions to reduce emissions is actually the continuation of strong, planet changing levels of emissions.

      I don’t know how to flip the language back around in the public discourse – although of course I believe that people holding offices of trust and responsibility should be educated and informed enough, with good judgement to know better.

      • Yes, that’s exactly right, Ken. I’ve tried the same ‘flip’, but it’s not easy because what is familiar is ‘normal’, and what is ‘normal’ is (seemingly by neurological default) assumed safe.

        (Cf., medical bloodletting for fever treatment, use of arsenic as a stimulant, use of methylene chloride* as paint stripper or as a solvent to do ‘chemical welding’ of certain plastics–I used to do the latter in my stint as a radio tech, fortunately surviving and not (so far) getting cancer–and, of course, smoking. Or, for that matter, getting in a car and driving through rush hour traffic to get to work. Of course, all those things are just risks for individuals. Clearly, we should be a good deal more cautious about risks to the entire biosphere.)


    4. It must be very stressful for EPA employees to follow orders, yet hold to the ethical standards of refusing to be complicit. This is a very dangerous time.

    5. Joel D. Scheraga, Ph.D is of course not a climate scientist.

    6. Chris Ho-Stuart
    7. I expect something similar from Secretary of the Interior Zinke and have been shopping around an OpEd on Climate Science in USDOI ending with: “Secretary Zinke, you are either profoundly and willfully ignorant or intellectually lazy. Which is it?”

    8. “Administrator Pruitt encourages an open, transparent debate on climate science.”

      There is no debate in the science any more, there is consilience and a resulting consensus. Debates are about opinions, science is about facts.

      Alternative facts have no place.

      “I don’t know how to flip the language back around in the public discourse ”
      Exactly true @KenFabian. The arrangements that have been in process since Reagan had the Fairness Doctrine repealed without any replacement, are starting to bite and a whole generation of ignorance has been spawned. The Overton window has been purposefully and deliberately moved and to move it back is simply not going to happen, not soon enough and not quietly.

      We can expect secession or revolution first.

      The villains of this piece have names like Cheney and Bush and Rove – their treason against the actual values of the USA will resonate for centuries. Pruitt may deserve to be hanged, but there will be hell to pay in the USA no matter if they left tomorrow. The divisions promoted in the name of the “New American Century” will not go away. The nation is I fear, mortally wounded. This will not be obvious until the climate destabilization grabs it by the neck and shakes it like a terrier shakes a rat, but it seems clear enough to me now.

    9. @Richard Pauli,
      Yes, and some of the best people will leave, and those whose ethics are malleable will rise. I saw this at GE under Welch, for less but similar stress.

    10. “Administrator Pruitt encourages an open, transparent debate on climate science.”
      Like, “What is the best estimate of climate sensitivity?” To which a response could be, “Anything less than 1.5 degrees C is magical thinking, and here are lots of reasons why…”. “Anything over 4 degrees C seems unlikely, in the light of the following…”.
      That is surely the type of debate he’s after.

      Surely he doesn’t want people to talk rubbish about the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Surely he doesn’t want people to suggest that scientists all over the world are engaged in rigging temperature data from the last hundred odd years. Surely he doesn’t want people to start confusing local with global. Surely he doesn’t want people confusing noise with trend, or weather with climate. Surely he doesn’t want nit picking, like the non-existent distinction between the oceans becoming more acidic or less alkaline. Surely he doesn’t want people to argue about how long the current pause in global warming is. Surely he doesn’t want people to argue that we’ll revert to the stone age if we rely on renewable energy. Surely he doesn’t want people to argue that all global warming is caused by El Nino’s. Surely he doesn’t want endless predictions that the next ice age is about to start any second now .

      Perhaps Mr Pruitt’s office could pre-emptively shut down all that drivel?

    11. Pruitt and his cronies belong to that guild–the Merchants of Doubt–so well described by Oreskes and Conway in their 2010 book.

    12. If only Pruitt would stay inside his taxpayer-built cone of silence more often.

    13. Off topic but just wanted to highlight Stefan Rahmstorf’s tweet: