hearing by the House Science Committee on "Climate Change: The State of
the Science" aptly, if unintentionally, illustrated "the state of the
politics" surrounding this issue. On the same day that President George
Bush announced his opposition to controls on carbon dioxide emissions,
the Republican Chairman of the House Science Committee, Sherwood Boehlert
(NY) declared this position "misguided and unjustified." Within minutes,
the senior Democrat on the committee, Rep. Ralph Hall (TX), was praising
the president for his announcement. And, as been the case at similar hearings,
there was enough uncertainty about this phenomenon that Members on both
sides of this issue could elicit responses to their questions supporting
opened the hearing declaring "there is one principle concerning global
climate change on which just about everyone can agree - and that's that
we need a strong and continuing research program to understand more
about climate." He later went on to say, "I wish the Administration
would have waited to hear from experts like the ones we have before
us today before embarking on what I believe is a misguided and unjustified
reversal of position. But policy is not what we are focusing on at today's
Member Hall described his position on global change as "poles apart"
from Boehlert, saying that it was time to "retire" from this subject.
Citing the Senate's overwhelming opposition to the Kyoto Treaty, he
called it a waste of time to go to Japan.
The first witness
was Daniel L. Albritton, Director of NOAA's Aeronomy Lab, and one of
the Coordinating Lead Authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change report, "Climate Change 2001. The Scientific Basis." His testimony
focused on several major points, stating at the outset that "it has
become very clear for some time that we are changing the greenhouse
radiation balance, namely: greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere
because of human activities, and increasingly trapping more heat." One
of the key points in his testimony was that "a greenhouse-gas warming
could be reversed only very slowly." Also testifying was Charles Kennel,
Chairman of the Committee on Global Change Research of the National
Research Council. This committee recently issued a report, "The Science
of Regional and Global Change: Putting Knowledge to Work." He testified
that the NRC "recommends establishing a high-level governmental authority
to define the national priorities related to global and regional environmental
research and decision-making. The authority should ensure and direct
adequate resources to those priorities. Without such an authority, agencies
will continue to fund only those areas that fall within their purview
and the resulting patchwork of observing systems and research will not
work as an effective decision-support system." The final witness, Berrien
Moore, Director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and
Space of the University of New Hampshire, outlined ten broad areas in
which further effort is needed to understand and predict climate change.
Among the ten were: "arrest the decline of observational networks in
many parts of the world" and "sustain and expand the observational foundation
for climate studies by providing accurate, long-term consistent data,
including implementation of a strategy for integrated global observations."
many committee members was largely supportive. Boehlert told the witnesses
that "we need help," and asked each of them to identify three areas
that should be addressed first. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) urged the witnesses
to discuss the problem in "plain English," while Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI)
asked about disagreement in the scientific community about global change,
and the positive and negative regional effects of warming. Rep. Dana
Rohrabacher (R-CA) was openly skeptical about global change.
the hearing by commenting that there are few issues that are marked
by 100% certainty. The key to dealing with skepticism about this issue,
he said, is the support of research to characterize this problem.