William Happer, a Princeton atomic physicist and prominent skeptic questioning whether humans are causing rapid climate change, is joining the National Security Council as senior director for emerging technologies, according to NSC officials.
Happer, 79, is an emeritus professor of physics at Princeton who served in the Department of Energy under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. He did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
His public stance on climate change is in opposition to near universally accepted science.
He told CNN in April 2017 that carbon dioxide is not the toxic “pollutant” it’s made out to be and “the temperature is not rising nearly as fast as the alarmist computer models predicted.” He compared the Paris climate agreement, signed in 2015 by the US under President Barack Obama and 194 nations, to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s and said it was “silly” and “should be canceled.”
President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the US was withdrawing from the agreement, which aims to address and attempt to mitigate the consequences of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Happer, who is not a climate expert, specialized in atomic physics and the study of optics at Princeton. His research helped pioneer “adaptive optics,” technology that helps eliminate distortion and fuzziness when using telescopes, microscopes or other imaging systems, breakthroughs that drew interest for their military applications.
Happer has said he is not a “climate denier.” He told Foreign Policy magazine in May 2017 that “climate has been with us forever” and it’s ridiculous to “deny” it.
However, he said he would advocate for a rigorous public review of the science of climate change and its causes were he to return to public service.
“If it’s this important, why haven’t we had a public review of it,” he questioned. “We have that all the time in defense programs … if you’re going to put in a new fighter jet, you have a red team that tries to find something wrong with it,” he told Foreign Policy.
Happer was part of discussions on participating in an administration exercise to debate climate change. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced in October 2017 that he was working on a “red team-blue team” approach where competing teams of scientists would hold a public debate on climate science research. Happer was courted to be part of the red team, according to emails obtained by CNN from the Sierra Club, which filed a lawsuit resulting in the release of the emails. The plan was abandoned before Pruitt resigned in July.
‘I’m a scientist’
Happer, who met with Trump during the presidential transition, told The Scientist magazine he had spoken to the President about the importance of having scientists working in the White House so he could listen to their advice.
Happer also said they agreed that climate change science has become like a “cult movement,” and that they had bonded over the President’s uncle, John Trump, a former physicist, as well as over a shared interest in making the US more competitive in science and technology.
When it was rumored in 2017 that he would be appointed to a role in the White House, Happer was asked how he would respond to resistance over his appointment from Democrats and fellow scientists. He said he would do his best to provide the best technical advice.
“I’m a scientist; I know a lot about some areas, and I know how to find out about others. I know how to reach out to people who really do know,” he told The Scientist. “And I think I could provide the best possible advice, technically related and scientifically related advice, for the administration for policy decisions that really need to get the science and technology right.”