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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


In a 2009 interview with the Daily Princetonian, University physics professor emeritus and avowed climate change denier William Happer *64 compared climate change science to Nazi propaganda, asserting similarities between climate change science and the pseudoscience that claimed that “Germans are the master race,” and that “the Jews are the scum of the earth.”

Now, the Trump administration has picked Happer as the chair of a panel that will seek to determine whether climate change poses a threat to national security.

Although Happer has no formal training as  a climate scientist, he has nevertheless been vocal on the topic. Happer’s belief that carbon dioxide should not be viewed as a pollutant is reflected in two op-eds he wrote which defend the compound, one in 2012 and another in 2013.

In a CNBC interview, Happer said that “the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler — Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.”

In a later interview with the Guardian, Happer said that “there’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult.”

His fellow colleagues at the University disagree. Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, claimed, “[many] studies have made a strong case that various aspects of climate change have an effect on national security” and that “with respect to climate science and scientists, [Happer] is not only unknowledgeable but appears to have become unmoored.”

When asked about opposing scientific consensus, Happer wrote in an email to the ‘Prince’ that “I often think of the paper, ‘Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein’ (A Hundred Authors against Einstein).” He then quoted Einstein’s adage, “if I am wrong, one scientist would be sufficient.”

Happer added that “I am especially proud of Princeton for providing a safe home.”

The call for a committee comes on the heels of a Pentagon report, the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, which identified “negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change” as risks to global security. In particular, the report states that “climate hazards… are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.”

The 2018 National Climate Assessment also underscored the potential consequences of climate change, predicting that “annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.” In response to the projected cost to the economy, President Trump said, “I don’t believe it.”

The main purpose of the proposed panel would be to evaluate the conclusions of these two climate assessments.

Organizations such as the Center for Climate and Security have voiced opposition against such a committee, criticizing the move as politically motivated. An executive for the center added that “a rigorous independent panel of credible climate and national security experts to study the broader security implications of climate on a higher level" would be excellent.

Claire Wayner ’22 described Happer’s appointment as “a huge step backwards.”

“I think it’s disappointing that Professor Happer is taking such a strong, politicized stance against a phenomenon widely accepted by 97 percent of scientists,“ said Wayner.

Although Wayner believes that, in much of his previous work, Happer “tries to present a balanced viewpoint,“ she believes his appointment will make consensus on climate change difficult.

As the Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics Emeritus, Happer helped pioneer the study of spin-polarized atoms and their applications in atomic physics. He has served on the JASON advisory group since 1976, serving as its chair from 1987 to 1990, and was the director of energy research for the Department of Energy from 1991 to 1993. He obtained a Ph.D. in Physics from the University in 1964.

Happer currently serves on the White House National Security Council.

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