LONDON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he’s firmly convinced “the world will be successful” in overcoming any challenges caused by climate change, especially if America fosters a growing economy in which “structural innovators and creative people can go build out solutions” to problems that might be on the horizon.
“We will do the things necessary as the climate changes,” Mr. Pompeo said in an interview with The Washington Times this week, during which he staunchly defended President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord reached in 2015 and chastised Democrats for making exaggerated declarations about the climate.
“As for the risks associated with climate change, the climate’s been changing a long time,” Mr. Pompeo said. “I’ve heard folks from the party [say] that I was not part of talk about ‘enormous warming and the risk of real cooling.’ Ah, the data speaks for itself.”
He made the remarks in an interview as he rounded out a visit to Europe, where antipathy among European leaders — who widely embraced the Paris Agreement during the Obama era — is deep over the Trump administration’s posture toward climate change.
Mr. Pompeo said the accord “was a failure” for a range of reasons, foremost among them being that its “enforcement mechanisms were near-nonexistent — it was aspirational.” He went on to argue the accord placed a “real burden … on the [U.S.] and its economy and its workers and ordinary people in places like Kansas that I come from” while “others would have been free riders” in comparison to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions the U.S. had committed to under the accord.
Mr. Pompeo’s comments reflect a posture he previously had toward the climate change issue as a Kansas Republican in the U.S. House. According to the Open Secrets website of the Center for Responsive Politics, during Mr. Pompeo’s final years as a congressman, the largest portion of his campaign contributions came from the oil and natural gas industry, which climate activists say must be curtailed to reduce global warming-causing carbon emissions.
The issue of climate change has become potentially more sensitive for Mr. Pompeo since he emerged last year as America’s top diplomat, a role that now involves near constant meetings with foreign leaders, the vast majority of whom argue there is no doubt about science pointing to man-made global warming.
During his confirmation hearing last year, Mr. Pompeo appeased some Democrats by saying “the climate is changing, there’s a warming taking place” and “I’m happy to concede that there is likely a human component to that.”
His adherence to that view has come under closer scrutiny in international diplomatic circles, most recently during an early May meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland, where the secretary of state spoke of the shared responsibility of protecting the Arctic’s “fragile ecosystem” but focused mainly on economic opportunities being presented by the region’s melting ice sheets.
“Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century’s Suez and Panama canals,” Mr. Pompeo said at the meeting, according to the Associated Press, which said the meeting ended with no joint declaration by member nations because of an inability to get the U.S. delegation to agree on a text that included language about climate change.
The council did issue a brief joint statement reaffirming a “commitment to maintain peace, stability and constructive co-operation in the Arctic,” according to the AP, which cited a senior U.S. official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, as downplaying the failure to craft a declaration.
“Just because you don’t have a certain phrase in it, you can’t infer that the United States has taken a position that is anti-environment,” the official said.
Mr. Pompeo has pushed aside questions about the wording of the Arctic Council resolution. The Trump administration “takes keeping Americans safe, keeping our drinking water pure, keeping our air clean, very, very seriously,” he told ABC News in early May.
“What the debate is about in this document you’re referring to is about the Paris climate agreement,” he said. “We’ve seen America reduce its carbon footprint while the signatories, including China, haven’t done theirs.
“This administration is focused on doing the things that will allow our economy to grow,” the secretary of state added. “Countries with high per capita GDP always have cleaner air [and] safer drinking water.”
During his interview with The Times this week, Mr. Pompeo spoke more broadly, asserting that there are “always changes” taking place to the climate and that, as a result, “societies reorganize, we move to different places, we develop technology and innovation.”
Asked whether that meant he believes humans will engineer a “technological fix” in response to climate change, the secretary of state responded: “It’s not just technological, right? We’ll fix it by the way we organize.”
“There’s lots of ways that one can address [it],” he said. “If waters rise — I was just in the Netherlands, all below sea level, right? Living a wonderful, thriving economic situation. The world will be successful. I’m convinced. We will figure out responses to this that address these issues in important and fundamental ways.”