Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor turned GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, declared Wednesday that carbon dioxide is not a climate problem because it accounts for just a small fraction of the air in Earth’s atmosphere, a longtime talking point of climate change deniers.
Oz made the remark during a forum in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he and his Republican rivals were asked how they would address soaring energy prices as U.S. senators. In a combative primary, the political newcomer known for hosting a long-running daytime TV show has taken heat for his past stance against fracking due to health concerns, which his campaign has disavowed.
Each of the candidates onstage argued that Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s largest energy-producing states, should tap even more of its resources.
“As a scientist, I’ll tell you the Green New Deal is a lie,” said Oz, who is a medical doctor, not a climate scientist. He was referring to what is little more than a loose set of guiding principles to combat global climate change. “It’s not just unfair because we’re sacrificing our energy independence. Actually, we want more than energy independence, we want energy dominance.”
Then Oz launched into a talking point that would make even the most fervent climate deniers proud.
The “ideology that carbon is bad” is “a lie,” he said. “Carbon dioxide, my friends, is 0.04% of our air. That’s not the problem.”
Carbon dioxide is absolutely the problem when it comes to planetary warming. CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity are the main driver of climate change, accounting for more than three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Oz’s comment is one climate deniers have been making for years, but it also comes just short of parroting another favorite denialist talking point: that carbon dioxide emissions are “beneficial” to crop production and the lushness of the planet.
On the campaign trail, Oz has portrayed himself as a longtime champion of Pennsylvania’s gas industry. He’s posted videos of himself bemoaning Biden’s energy policies while pumping gas and has taken a particular liking to something he said people chanted at a town hall in Pennsylvania earlier this month: “Back off Biden! Give us freedom to frack!”
But as HuffPost first reported, Oz’s affinity for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is new. As a TV celebrity doctor, Oz co-authored multiple articles warning his readers about the potential health and environmental risks associated with the drilling technique, which involves pumping a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to release oil and natural gas. The practice is widespread throughout Pennsylvania.
At Wednesday’s forum, former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick brought up Oz’s past columns that caution against fracking, which Oz’s campaign claims were actually authored by someone else.
“Mehmet, in your particular case, in your shows and in your columns, you’ve argued for more regulation in fracking,” McCormick said. “You’ve made the case that there’s health effects from fracking, and you’ve argued for a moratorium in Pennsylvania, like what’s in New York.”
“That’s not true,” Oz interjected. “That’s a lie and you know it’s a lie.”
In a 2014 health and wellness Q&A, Oz and Dr. Mike Roizen, then the chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, wrote that it was “a fact” that fracking pumps “toxic chemicals” deep into the ground and advocated for states and municipalities to follow New York’s lead, which at the time had placed a moratorium on fracking pending the outcome of a health study. In a 2015 piece published in right-wing news outlet Newsmax titled, “Surprise! Fracking May Cause Birth Defects,” the two highlighted then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s subsequent decision to permanently ban fracking statewide, writing that the governor had “heard enough.” Oz and Roizen went on to call for legislation that “requires anyone who profits from a fracking site to drink the local water.”
Oz and Roizen also authored a column in 2017 highlighting the many ways climate-fueled extreme heat, wildfires, floods and infectious disease outbreaks are harming public health.
Oz’s campaign has attempted to distance Oz from his previous medical columns, despite the fact that his name is on them, claiming that many of the views in them belonged entirely to Roizen.
“Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen have very different positions on energy policy and fracking,” Brittany Yanick, the campaign’s communications director, told HuffPost earlier this month. “Dr. Roizen took over sole management of the daily column in 2009 and when they disagreed on views, he was supposed to clearly specify he felt a different way than Dr. Oz — these are clear examples that he didn’t do that.”
Wednesday’s forum, hosted by the Manufacturer and Business Association in Erie, was the first time that Oz and McCormick, the two front-runners, appeared together at a public event, along with Republicans Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer, and Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator.