President Trump made headlines this week when he said “I don’t think science knows” about climate change and claimed that mitigating the wildfires raging through California was simply a matter of forest management. But Jerry Taylor, a former “climate skeptic” who is now the president and co-founder of the Niskanen Center, an environmental think tank, says “it’s insane to play dice with the planet” by ignoring evidence that the climate is changing.

“We shouldn’t be having a white-hot debate about the most likely outcome from climate change because that’s not what risk management is about,” Taylor said Thursday during the CBSN special “A Climate in Crisis.” “Risk management is about looking at the full distribution of possible outcomes from climate change and weighing them accordingly.”

Taylor said that while it’s certainly possible that climate change will have a more modest impact, “it’s also quite possible that it’s going to be an extremely cataclysmic event.” 

“In fact, the possibility that that’s what we have in store for our future is becoming more and more abundantly clear as we watch extreme weather events play out and the warming play out at a more dramatic pace than we had anticipated,” he added. “And if we look at that full distribution of possible outcomes from climate change, it’s insane to play dice with the planet like that, and to ignore the real risks that we’re facing today and that our kids and grandchildren will face.”  

When asked what the climate denier community is hoping to accomplish with its rhetoric, Taylor said that it isn’t aiming for the support of the average American — instead, he said, its goal is “talking to the hard right of the Republican Party, and cementing climate denialism into the identity of conservative America.” 

“It wasn’t always the case that the right-wing of the Republican Party was so hostile to mainstream climate science,” he added. “But that’s is the fruits of what the climate denialist community has accomplished over the course of time.”

When asked about Mr. Trump’s recent comments on climate, Taylor highlighted that the vast majority of peer-reviewed articles published in recent years agree that climate change is occurring. 

“To be skeptical of climate science today is to be skeptical of the Pythagorean theorem and to say, ‘Well, it’s just a theory,'” he said. “If mainstream climate science is as far off as Donald Trump argues, then mainstream atmospheric physics is premised on a whole bunch of hooey.” 


Climate change a top election issue

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Taylor said there is hope for bipartisanship in the future. He said he believes that fossil fuels are rapidly disappearing and being replaced with green energy, which will eventually appeal to business-minded Republicans. He also noted that the GOP is “increasingly incapable of competing in suburban America today,” which may force them to adopt a more progressive position. 

He also likened the effects of climate change to the coronavirus pandemic, and said he believes it may serve as a “wake up call.” 

“I think the price we pay when we ignore science, we ignore experts, we ignore the things we can see with our own eyes around us on a daily basis, and to believe things we wish were true rather than what are objectively true — well, we know the wages we pay when we go down that road,” he said. “We’re paying them right now.” 

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