The United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change is the only tangible decision made by the Trump government in its five months of existence. The American president himself hesitated at length, before leaving it up to a militant, committed member of his staff: A certain Scott Pruitt, the ecologists’ enemy number one.
In this baroque, incompetent administration, Pruitt appears as one of the rare people capable of articulating what the president thinks. Having worked as a lawyer then as Attorney General in Oklahoma, Pruitt is one of the conservative fundamentalists for whom Trump’s election finally offered an opportunity to transform an until-then marginal vision of the world into national policy. In a reflection of his ideology, Pruitt is rigid and unmoving, discoursing without nuance, refusing to listen to either the questions nor the contradictions. A sort of human-faced bulldozer puffed up with certitude, as some U.S. evangelical preachers can be.
Everything is simple for Pruitt: God created the world in seven days, the United States is an exceptional nation, and if the climate changes, well, it’s God’s work. According to him, Obama ruined America by adopting the doctrine of ecologists who do not like America, capitalism or economic growth. It seems ecology is the Leninism of our times; an external enemy which, to make matters worse, has also infiltrated the very machinery of the federal administration. The biggest mistake made by the ecologists, so says Pruitt, is not accepting it is possible to simultaneously boost national wealth and protect nature.
Pruitt is the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a powerful body that imposes severe constraints on companies that threaten the environment. And yet, during his career as a lawyer, Pruitt defended CEOs in the coal mining and gas and oil drilling industries against the very agency he now manages. He personally sees no contradiction, stating his role is to get the agency back on track by returning to its original purpose of protecting the quality of water and air, and nothing else. And no one can say he has failed to pursue that objective since taking up his functions.
The current EPA administrator laments the Obama government’s obsession with global warming. He claims it abandoned its most important mission, and allowed mountains of polluting chemical waste to accumulate while it devoted itself exclusively to battling CO2 emissions released by coal, oil and gas energies. “The war on coal is done,” Pruitt declared; all energy sources are now free to compete against each other without fear of state favoritism under the pretext that some may be more “renewable” than others. The market is now the sole judge. It just so happens that on the day I met with Pruitt in New York, we were welcomed by a group of ecologist militants. A demonstration that left the EPA administrator entirely indifferent.
Does this therefore mean there is no climate change, and if there is then carbon dioxide has nothing to do with it? Pruitt claims we do not know, ignoring the general consensus on the subject in the scientific community. He doesn’t even believe in scientific truth in this particular field. As he sees it, there are right-wing and left-wing experts, and both cherry-pick the facts to better promote their ideologies. In an effort to prove this odd yet not completely inaccurate argument, Pruitt plans to assemble a balanced commission of republican and democrat researchers, lock them in a climate conclave, and see what they come up with. This idea is reminiscent of the great theological conclaves in the late Middle Ages, when religious dignitaries were asked to argue over sacraments and salvation. The debate that began in the 16th century between the pope, Luther and Calvin, is still raging today. Does this mean the climate is a theological subject? It is probably what Pruitt is striving to prove.
By fanning the flames of controversy around the issue of climate change while reducing the field of ecology to the protection of air and water, Pruitt intends to stimulate energy production in all its forms to guarantee U.S. autonomy and make the country a leading exporter, thereby reducing the political influence of the Gulf countries and Russia. And it’s a popular policy. It may well be the only popular, coherent part of Trumpism. The ecologists certainly have their work cut out if they want to contain such a determined, unscrupulous adversary.