On Monday, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Science issued a dire warning about the threat of global climate change. Breitbart did not take it well. Thomas D. Williams, the right-wing website’s Rome bureau chief, accused the academy of spreading “apocalyptic hyperbole.” Carbon dioxide, he said, is merely “a colorless, odorless, non-toxic gas” that is “essential for life on earth.” Williams ignored the thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers that say our excessive greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming, and that global warming—not carbon dioxide itself—is what harms human life.
Considering Williams’s rejection of climate science, it was surprising that he went on to accurately describe the risks of air pollution. The Vatican, he wrote, should instead be worrying about “dangerous fine particulate matter,” a reference to tiny soot particles that are emitted into air by power plants, cars, and many industries. Williams asserted that particulate matter “is responsible for millions of deaths each year” and that exposure “increases the risk of acute lower respiratory infection, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.”
These statements are not only correct, but stand in stark contrast to what Breitbart has published on air pollution in the past. The site’s most prolific climate writer, James Delingpole, has written that air pollution’s health risks are “fake news” and “junk science.” In doing so, Delingpole exclusively cites Steve Milloy, a former paid advocate for tobacco and oil companies (Milloy was also a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency). Breitbart has published Milloy’s writings at least 35 times—writings that feature titles like “How Stupid is Air Pollution ‘Science’?” and “More of EPA’s Fradulent ‘Science,’” referring to the fact that air pollution kills people.
Breitbart is caught in an ideological bind. If they side with the epidemiologists and environmental scientists who say air pollution can trigger death, they would have to actively oppose the Trump administration’s EPA, which has hired air pollution skeptics to fill scientific advisor positions and has used junk air pollution science to justify gutting climate change regulations. But if they continue to deny that air pollution is a human health hazard, they risk looking—well, just ignorant.