Last week's hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
provided fresh evidence of the wide disagreement there is about whether
the Earth's climate is changing, and the extent to which human activity
is responsible for this change.
The committee's announcement about this hearing said only that it would
"discuss the role of science in environmental policy making."
No witness list was provided. Nevertheless, the large hearing room was
filled to capacity with the public spilling out into the hallway. Although
initial topics ranged as widely as the ban on DDT and the Endangered
Species Act, the hearing quickly centered on global climate change.
Chairman James M. Inhofe's (R-OK) position on this topic is unambiguous,
as he has previously described the threat of catastrophic global warming
as the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."
The hearing did not reveal any change in the chairman's thinking.
The lead witness, author Michael Crichton, attracted the most interest
from the senators. Crichton's novel, "State of Fear," takes
issue with the theory that human activity is causing global climate
warming. Also testifying was Professor William Gray of Colorado State
University, best known as a hurricane forecaster, who has serious doubts
about the ability of scientists to forecast global climate change. Witnesses
taking a different approach were Richard Benedick of the National Council
for Science and the Environment and David Sandalow of The Brookings
Institution. Testifying about the DDT ban and its effect on malaria
outbreaks was Donald Roberts of the University of the Health Services.
Inhofe opened the hearing by saying of the witnesses that they were
"a real heavy group." He criticized efforts that were "pushing
people's political agenda," and spoke of the need to use "sound
science" in policymaking decisions. Ranking Minority Member Jim
Jeffords (I-VT) expressed his support for Chairman Inhofe, but then
asked, "given the profound suffering and ecological damage along
the Gulf Coast, why are we having a hearing that features a fiction
writer as our key witness?" Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) charged
that the hearing "will muddy the issues," noted Crichton's
book was fiction, and his views not subjected to peer review. Senator
Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) both discussed
damage that had been done to their states' economies by what they termed
faulty science underlying policy decisions. Bond criticized the "media
hype" surrounding some issues.
Crichton called for the independent verification of scientific research,
criticizing climate research for not being conducted as vigorously as
medical testing. He said climate change should not be ignored, but that
future research should have higher quality standards. Benedick, the
Reagan Administration's chief negotiator on the Montreal CFC Protocol,
explained that policymakers must act sometimes without complete scientific
Gray was emphatic in his remarks. Standing, unconventionally, to address
the senators and the audience, he criticized the "hype" about
climate change, saying he was "appalled at what has come forth."
Gray charged members of association boards issuing statements warning
of climate change "don't know much," and that researchers
"have the basic physics wrong." Gray said it is impossible
to model fully the atmosphere, making it impossible to project the earth's
climate in ten to fifteen years.
Sandalow urged Congress to request a National Academy of Sciences'
study on extreme weather events. He also wants the National Academy
to examine the state of global climate change research.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked pointed questions. She charged that
the work of many researchers had been maligned, taking direct issue
with Grey's criticism. Under persistent questioning from Boxer, Grey
admitted that only "some" of his papers had been published,
and only a "couple" peer-reviewed. Boxer said that her staff
had not been able to find any work by Gray on global warming that had
been peer-reviewed. During later questioning, Gray said that his proposals
had been rejected 13 times, pointing to "general brainwashing"
in scientific journals and the media as the reason why his climate change
research had not been funded. Regarding Crichton, Boxer said that his
book was fiction, and cannot be used to make policy.
Perhaps the only person holding the middle ground was Senator Murkowski.
In her opening remarks she had complained that faulty research had led
to bad decisions affecting Alaska's fishing and minerals industries.
But her later remarks had a different tone. While saying "prediction
is not fact," and noting that various studies and reports are less
than conclusive, she spoke of changes she has witnessed in Alaska and
declared, "we are experiencing climate change."