The entomologist nominated to be the chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C., said today he accepts the conclusions of a new federal report on climate change that President Donald Trump has dismissed and that he hopes science can help farmers adapt to some of the harmful effects already being caused by global warming.
Scott Hutchins went before the Senate agriculture committee this morning in his bid to become USDA undersecretary for research, education, and economics. The 59-year-old Hutchins, who recently retired after a career in research and management at what is now the agricultural division of DowDuPont, would fill a position that has been vacant since the end of former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Hutchins’s comments stand in sharp contrast to the hostile reaction from the Trump administration to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released last week. The 1600-page report concluded that “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.” It adds that “the impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify,” but notes that the severity might be mitigated by the country’s ability to adapt to those changes.
Trump told The Washington Post yesterday that he and other people with “very high levels of intelligence [are] not necessarily believers” in the report’s conclusions. But Hutchins is not part of that group, he told senators today.
“I have no reason to doubt the report itself,” Hutchins said in response to a question from Senator Sherrod Brown (D–OH). “I believe that the body of work that supports that report is genuine.”
Brown wasn’t completely satisfied with Hutchins’s answer. But the Ohio lawmaker said he understood the need for the nominee to tread carefully.
“I would have preferred that you had just said that humans have caused much of climate change,” Brown grumbled. “But I know you know that the administration tried to bury the climate assessment report, which was written by 13 agencies, including USDA, and its description of how climate change is threatening our economy, our farms, and our forests.”
For his part, Hutchins preferred to talk about how USDA scientists and the research program he is in line to oversee can address that threat.
“I think the key part of the report is what should we do about it,” Hutchins said. “We—and by that, I mean agriculture—can be a partial solution to the problem, by helping to sequester carbon, and by using best practices that are win-win for the growers, such as cover crops and good conservation practices. If confirmed, it would be my pledge to make sure that agriculture plays as much of a positive role as possible.”
Drawing on his expertise in integrated pest management, Hutchins told the committee that “one of the things in the report that makes perfect sense to me, as an entomologist, is that we will see an increase in pestilence and an expansion of the range of invasive species. And the USDA can play a critical role in terms of helping us predict that and get a handle on that, in partnership with APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] and other USDA agencies.”