New hire at the NOAA spells trouble for the U.S.

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Illustration by Gabriela Fonseca

It just keeps getting worse: David Legates has been hired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. No, this is not a joke. I’m sure you’re wondering why it would be in the first place. In fact, I bet you’re thinking: Who is this man, whose name I’ve never heard before? Why should I care? And to you my answer is this: For those who live in the United States — or, as a matter of fact, anywhere in the world — this man’s name is important to learn. 

So let’s start. I will give you a brief history of this man, who is by all accounts a joke, even though his employment is not. David Legates is a University of Delaware Professor of Climatology, who has spent most of his career “questioning the basic tenets of climate science” . In 2007, he published a paper questioning the impact of climate change on the poles. He expressed doubt over the role of climate change in destroying the habitat of polar bears. This paper, or “research,” as he would have it, was funded heavily by grants from natural gas giant Koch Industries, alongside the American Petroleum Institute lobbying group and ExxonMobil .  

Now, quick segue for you: Koch Industries is a multinational and privately held corporation. Its annual revenue is around $110 billion. The company is involved in a variety of industries, including refinery, chemicals and biofuels, electronics, commodity trading and fertilizers. The CEO of the company, Charles Koch, has a net worth of $44.9 billion. He benefits heavily from mass production and, therefore, the emissions of fossil fuels — a primary cause of climate change. It doesn’t take a genius to piece this puzzle together; Koch relies on these “scientists” to denounce the global phenomenon of climate change, and this, in turn, induces the spread of ignorance. Then, Koch can run his company without any changes to production, and can continue to rack up revenue.  

It doesn’t take a genius to piece this puzzle together; Koch relies on these “scientists” to denounce the global phenomenon of climate change, and this, in turn, induces the spread of ignorance.

In other words, Legates is part of a cult. Well, not exactly. But it’s fair to say that his judgement is at least very heavily skewed.

But enough about that. Let’s circle back to Legates now. He was the state of Delaware’s climatologist at the time he published those “findings,” and the governor actually had to write him a letter asking him to “refrain from casting doubt on climate science while he was acting in his official role”. Legates stepped down. He was later seen in a video pushing the disproven theory that the sun is the cause of global warming. Then in 2014, he made a testimony before the U.S. Senate in which he argued against a climate science report given by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has since been recognized for his affiliation with the Heartland Institute, “a think tank that has poured money into convincing Americans that climate change is not happening and that the scientific evidence — including evidence published by the agency that now employs him — is uncertain or untrustworthy”. In other words, Legates is part of a cult. Well, not exactly. But it’s fair to say that his judgement is at least very heavily skewed.  

Advocates like this, who reject climate science, have had a very large role in the Trump administration’s response to global warming. In fact, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team houses several other affiliates of the Heartland Institute. This is a likely explanation for Legates’ sudden role in the NOAA as deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction. Though the White House has declined to comment on his sudden employment, it is obvious why he was chosen. It could not have come at a worse time. With the fires in the West and hurricanes plowing through the South and East, climate change has never felt more real. And yes, it just keeps getting worse.  

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