David Legates has made a career of denying the science behind climate change. And now the University of Delaware professor has a new high-profile gig at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for environmental observation and prediction.
Legates, the state of Delaware’s former climatologist, is known for attempting to undermine the science behind climate change. His hiring at the NOAA is yet another example of the Trump administration politicizing an agency that prioritizes science and is loathe to be roped into partisan politics.
An affiliate of the Heartland Institute — a right-wing think tank that nurtures climate science denial — Legates received the “Courage in Defense of Science” award at the group’s Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in 2015.
During his acceptance speech at the time, Legates said the award signaled that “you’ve been beaten over the head by a bunch of thugs repeatedly and you’ve persevered.”
In the same speech, he compared mainstream climate science to the book “Chariots of the Gods?” Published in 1968, the popular work asserted that ancient civilizations had been visited and influenced by aliens.
In 2011, Legates was asked to step down as Delaware’s climatologist — a few years after the state’s governor had directed him, in an email, to stop using his official title when discussing his views on climate change.
“Your views on climate change, as I understand them, are not aligned with those of my administration,” then-Gov. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner wrote to Legates in 2007. “In light of my position and due to the confusion surrounding your role with the state, I am directing you to offer any future statements on this or other public policy matters only on behalf of yourself or the University of Delaware, and not as state climatologist.”
Over the years, Legates has run through the well-rehearsed arguments of other climate science deniers, as diligently recorded on the site DeSmog Blog.
During congressional testimony in 2019, for example, he argued that a warmer climate and more carbon dioxide would be a “net benefit” to life on Earth. He cited a longer and more productive growing season and the fact that “More people die from exposure to cold than heat.”
In a 2007 paper co-authored with Dr. Willie Soon, the pair argued that polar bears in Canada’s Hudson Bay did not face a threat from climate change. The paper was one of several from Soon that questioned the threat posed by climate change — and that also acknowledged Soon had received grants from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, American Petroleum Institute and ExxonMobil.
Legates isn’t the only Heartland associate to end up in the Trump administration. William Happer, also affiliated with the group, served on the National Security Council until last year. Happer, another climate science denier, is perhaps best known for comparing Carbon Dioxide to “poor Jews under Hitler.”
In an email quoted in a Heartland Institute blog post, Legates called himself “the only scientist ever to have his research characterized as “crap” in Science…a badge I wear with honor.”