Environment Column

What to say to the climate change-denying Scott Pruitts of the world

President Donald Trump has literally hired someone who hates the Environmental Protection Agency to run the EPA.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has filed several lawsuits against the EPA, is still undergoing Senate hearings to determine whether his nomination will be confirmed. Even compared to the outrageous nominations of Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos, who Trump has selected to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Education, respectively, Pruitt’s takes the cake.

A climate change denier, Pruitt even brags on his LinkedIn profile that he “is a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

“There are many flavors of climate change denial,” said Robert Wilson, a professor of geography in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “One, there are people who are outright deniers who have some sort of vested interest in the status quo. And that’s Scott Pruitt.”

But Pruitt only accounts for a select few of deniers. The rest of the conservative, Republican United States does not have close ties to the oil industry. So why do they still reject the science?

Modern American conservative ideology “detests” taxes, regulation and heavy government spending, Wilson said. Addressing and acting on climate change is expensive. It means taxes will be raised to pay for the changes and corporations will be heavily regulated. All of this will result in an extraordinary amount of government spending. Conservatives are going to reject anything that opposes their fundamental values.

But as global warming increasingly becomes front page news, it will be hard not to discuss. The real difficulty comes in debating this topic with deniers: How do we approach real-life Scott Pruitts at a time like this?

We’ve learned the hard way in this ultra-polarized time that we can’t call someone who has opposing views every name in the book. That will backfire. Instead, a respectful, open dialogue needs to be had on both sides of the climate change question.

Wilson also offers a thoughtful approach to having these climate conversations.

“When I talk about the consequences of not acting on climate change, I talk about freedom, liberty and property. I tell them, ‘The greatest threat to property in the coming decades is climate change. We have trillions of dollars of property and real estate along coastal areas in this country that will be rendered worthless by rising seas and stronger storms.’”

Insurance companies will be less inclined to insure homes that are at risk for rising sea levels and severe storms. Those who will suffer most from this are the homeowners and banks. No one is going to buy a home that floods with salt water every other week.

Unless drastic change begins soon, the millennial generation will be burdened to deal with all of this. This apocalyptic matter is no longer a looming cloud that may or may not happen in the far-off future. We are seeing the changes now.

It’s no wonder why Pruitt, a public official in Oklahoma, doesn’t support an environmental agenda. His state runs on the agriculture and natural gas industries, which would be hindered by climate change policy. But while Pruitt’s audacity to blatantly deny science is getting under the skin of some Americans, it’s resonating as truth for others. It’s unfortunate that some still believe that science is up for debate.

So if you encounter a real-life Scott Pruitt — whether they’re a relative or a classmate — don’t bite your tongue. But don’t be so naive as to think everyone relies on logic.

It’s now up to us to make the deniers believers.

Lydia Niles is a freshman public relations major with minors in environment and society and political science. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lnilesst@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Lydia__Niles.

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