Energy. Environment. Economy.

Corbett’s top energy adviser skeptical about climate science

Patrick Henderson is Governor Corbett's Energy Executive.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Patrick Henderson is Governor Corbett's Energy Executive.

Governor Corbett’s top adviser on energy issues calls climate change an “evolving science” saying, “reasonable, studious individuals may still be searching for a consensus.”

Patrick Henderson was appointed by Corbett to be Pennsylvania’s Energy Executive in 2011. The Philadelphia Inquirer has called him “one of the most powerful people in Harrisburg you don’t know about.”

In an October 2013 interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania, Henderson acknowledged man-made climate change exists but called it an “evolving science.”

“We’re getting more information. We’re getting more facts,” he said. “We need to be pragmatic and practical in what our solutions are.”

Henderson declined to comment for this story, but he frequently comments on the StateImpact Pennsylvania website.

He left a message under our story on Wednesday about Corbett’s nominee to head the Department of Environmental Protection, Chris Abruzzo, who said he was unaware climate change can cause harm and sees no need for Pennsylvania to adopt new policies to address it.

Here is Henderson’s comment:

U.S. carbon emissions at a 20-year low, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

A 29% increase in ice cover across the globe compared to a year ago.

An emerging consensus among climate change scientists that there has been a pause in global warming since 1997, with some predicting a global cooling trend.

2013 – the fewest number of hurricanes in…31 years. And 8 years since the last major hurricane made landfall in the United States…the longest stretch since before
the Civil War.

Don’t fear though…we have discredited climate changer Michael Mann on speed email to tell you that this is NOT a complex issue upon which reasonable, studious individuals may still be searching for a consensus.

Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive
Governor’s Office

We fact-checked his statements. Here is where the science stands:

U.S. carbon emissions at a 20-year low, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration

This is true, when it comes to U.S. energy-related carbon emissions. However, because carbon dioxide (CO2) is mixed globally and on average persists in the atmosphere for more than a century, the global carbon trend is what matters.

In 2012, global CO2 emissions hit a record high. CO2 concentrations in the global atmosphere have risen every year since measurements began in 1958.

A 29% increase in ice cover across the globe compared to a year ago

It’s true that Antarctica (south pole) ice has increased this year. In the Arctic Ocean (north pole) the ice is below average levels. Global sea ice forms each winter and melts each summer. Overall, the long-term global ice trend is negative.

“The tiny gain in Antarctica’s ice is an interesting puzzle for scientists,” said National Snow and Ice Data Center lead scientist Ted Scambos in an October 2013 press release. “The rapid loss of ice in the Arctic should be ringing alarm bells for everyone.”

The Arctic is viewed as more important for regulating the climate. All of the seventh lowest summer ice minimums there have occurred in the last seven years, and 2012 set the all-time record low. This year has not been as warm, so the ice did not melt as much, but it is was still below normal.

Over time, the average summer ice around Antarctica has increased slightly, while the the summer ice in the Arctic Ocean has declined dramatically.

[There is] an emerging consensus among climate change scientists that there has been a pause in global warming since 1997, with some predicting a global cooling trend

The world’s scientists are not predicting a global cooling trend, quite the opposite.

The latest assessment from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects global temperatures to rise. “Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if CO2 emissions are stopped,” the authors write.

Climate scientists have certainly seen a slowing in the rate of increase in global temperatures, however it is important to note that temperatures have not gone down. Global average temperatures remain high.

Scientists say the lack of significant warming at the Earth’s surface in the past decade or so is likely due to the natural cycles of the climate. Meanwhile this “pause” has been accompanied by a sharp increase of heat stored in deep oceans. Scientists expect temperatures to swing back up again soon.

2013 – the fewest number of hurricanes in…31 years. And 8 years since the last major hurricane made landfall in the United States…the longest stretch since before the Civil War

This year was the quietest season for Atlantic hurricanes in 31 years. The number of hurricanes (both in the Atlantic, and globally) can vary dramatically from year to year. The latest IPCC report (p. 5) shows scientists have a low level of confidence in predicting future long-term trends in intense hurricane activity.

It’s also important to understand the definition of a major hurricane, which refers to Category 3 or higher. Hurricane categories only refer to wind speeds. They do not describe the overall damage a storm can cause. “Superstorm” Sandy was technically a post-tropical cyclone when it made landfall in the United States last fall. It still delivered a deadly storm surge, killing more than 100 people in the U.S. and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Why does Henderson call climate scientist and distinguished Penn State University professor of meteorology Michael Mann “discredited”?

It’s not clear. However, he may be referring to Mann’s role in a 2009 incident involving approximately 1,000 stolen emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

The emails included exchanges between some of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, including Mann. Taken out of context, some of the exchanges cast doubt on the integrity of Mann’s work. A series of investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing, and Mann is currently involved in a defamation lawsuit against two blogs which have attacked his work.

In January 2013, Penn State University honored Mann with a distinguished professorship in its College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. In September, the National Wildlife Federation honored him with its Conservation Achievement Award for Science. In its October issue, Bloomberg Markets magazine named him to its 50 Most Influential people list.

Mann calls Henderson’s comment “appalling.”

“It is beneath the dignity of any public official claiming to represent the people of this great commonwealth,” he writes in an email. “I hope the Governor will distance himself from this comment. I expect an apology from Mr. Henderson.”

Bottom line

Scientists say there is natural variability in the climate system, but human-induced warming is clear and poses significant risks.

Bob Henson is a meteorologist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

“Because of natural weather conditions, we wouldn’t expect to see climate change impacts in every part of the world every year,” he writes in a email.  ”But over the long term, we can expect rising temperatures, more frequent and longer heat waves, and rising sea levels to pose major challenges to society.”





  • nathansooy

    Perhaps Patrick Henderson will consent to be interviewed in the future. It is dismaying that he will not defend his views in a upfront and forthright manner.

    The overall defensiveness of the Corbett Administration is incredible. From Michael Krancer refusing to meet with Environmental groups because I offended him, to the roadblocks that this Administration puts before journalist and citizens to merely get information, I continue to be amazed at the lack of personal political skills in this Administration.

    • steve

      Speaking of roadblocks, one might comment about the obstacles Dr Mann put in the way of reevaluating bristlecone pines to validate climate proxies. It was done anyway, and the convergence was not good – gave rise to the term Divergence Issue, which Mann himself now writes about. Specifically, the reason that trees in the northern hemisphere don’t seem to agree with the recorded temperatures since 1980. One shouldn’t exclude the politics of science from climate discussions, especially in the most controversial scientific issue of our time.

  • CADonohoe

    “Patrick Henderson later added that he’s seen pigs fly and asked if anyone would like to ride his unicorn.”

    • steve

      I’m surprised that you don’t critique some of the points made by the author, which are equally inaccurate.

  • Brian Oram

    At least he is honest – he is not an expert in the climatic sciences or meteorology – his focus is energy and I do not know his expertise – I did not find his CV. Since he is not an expert – he probably should have not commented at all. The real problem is we need a national energy policy that addresses the long-term issues – climate science should not drive policy, but science should assist with developing the policies for our future.

    • KeepTapWaterSafe

      His license plate says GWBUSH – what more do you need to know?

  • steve

    “Climate scientists have certainly seen a slowing in the rate of increase in global temperatures”
    Not sure what this is intended to mean. “Increase” can be likened to velocity, whereas “rate of increase” is an acceleration. The author’s term “slowing in the rate of increase” implies that it is still accelerating, only not as fast. However, neither is true in the case of the global temperatures being discussed. They are neither increasing, nor increasing at faster or slower rates. The temps have been somewhat level for years. One can only speculate on the motives of the author to express the point in such a fashion.

  • KeepTapWaterSafe

    Henderson often posts comments on StateImpact. Funny he should decline the interview. Maybe it’s because his vague official-speak never seems to hold up to follow up questions? By not acknowledging the reality of Climate Change, however, he’s actively harming the people of Pennsylvania, who by the way pay his salary. He may just be doing his job, which is promoting shale gas development and obliterating all that pesky oversight. Yet it also involves: increasing toxic emissions, a steep increase in PA Air Quality Alerts, thousands of accidents and spills, massive deforestation, millions of felled trees, endless industrial shale gas infrastructure including webs of pipelines, compressors and processing stations, forced pooling, excessive use of eminent domain, ramping up controversial LNG exports through Philadelphia, and dramatically increasing the risk of toxic pollution to water supplies of future generations.

    I think Patrick Henderson, Tom Corbett, Mike Krancer, Tom Ridge, Ed Rendell and the rest should be required to account for every last drop of toxic, radioactive frack waste produced in Pennsylvania before another permit is issued. Bet they’d laugh at that.

  • Julieann Wozniak

    The man is parroting the standard GOP talking points. Hopefully, there’s an active brain in there, somewhere and he’ll be different than another talking head.

  • BlueNH

    Patrick, do you have children, or nieces and nephews? How will you explain your position to them when they are facing the worst extreme weather our planet has ever seen?

    Republicans will suffer with the rest of us, and when this ship sinks, their grandkids will drown, too. What a shame that they can’t drop this ignorant facade and enter the 21st century. They are too busy licking the boots of the koch bros and the Chamber. Disgusting.

  • Luciano

    Very sad, they’re tripping over each other trying to find ways to explain the unexplainable to keep up the regurgitating to fool the unaware but when the real cold sets in their lies will be as plain as the noses in their faces. Admit your lies now and apologize and save your self a bigger pie in your faces later!

  • JeffWest

    Corbett has no interest in bringing aboard anyone who has realistic, educated or pragmatic views. Just one more of the many reasons he’ll be voted out next November.

  • Watching and Waiting

    So this is what we call “debunking” these days? Picking items that prove our point but ignore the other data and observations that don’t?
    This person should simply give up being a “journalist” since they apparently aren’t interested in objective evaluation. Cherry-picking your data so it proves what you want it to prove isn’t science, nor is it journalism.
    The argument made by climate change alarmists that “climate change” is causing catastrophic weather events that – one would surmise – could somehow be avoided if we just did something about “climate change” is a elaborate fallacy.
    And yet when someone points out clearly that catastrophic weather events, like Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, are at all time lows when they were predicted by these same climate change “scientists” to be growing at cataclysmic rates only a few years ago, it’s simply dismissed by the author.
    And as for Mann, it’s already clear his hockey-stick predictions of global warming were wrong, and he still doesn’t let anyone see his raw data upon which he builds his “science.” So how exactly can anyone be sure that anything he says is accurate? It’s clear he hasn’t been correct with his predictions, and despite “an investigation” that really didn’t constitute any more than asking him if he lied or cheated on his “science,” no one has been able to prove his findings are at all correct.
    In fact, the global warming “pause” which has been ongoing for the last 15 years – according to the IPCC – isn’t in line at all with Mann’s predictions. It actually shows his computer modeling is all wrong. So whether he got this accolade or that accolade doesn’t mean his “science” is any good. “Scientist” are now scrambling for an answer – and they said it’s “likely” temperature will eventually rise again, and yet they have no data or “science” on which to base that – we’re just supposed to take their word for it because they are “scientists” and they said so, and this author repeated their unsubstantiated claims.

  • Jon Clark

    Mr. Henderson is spouting all the cherry-picked misleading junk and outright falsehoods that climate change deniers regularly spread. No surprise in an administration of climate change deniers. “We need to be pragmatic and practical in what our solutions are.” Translation- we need to continue business as usual.

  • Jon Clark

    Thanks for fact-checking NPR!! Please keep it up!

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