House Science Subcommittee Discusses Climate Change

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Publication date: 
20 May 2013

“Challenging accepted beliefs through open debate and critical thinking is a primary part of the scientific process. To make a rational decision on climate change, we need to examine the relevant scientific issues along with the costs and benefits and better understand the uncertainties that surround both,” stated Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman.

The Subcommittee on Environment held an April 25 hearing to discuss climate policy issues.  The hearing highlighted the political divide on issues including whether there are “consensus” climate models and how to address our understanding of future climate trends.  Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) opened the partisan hearing using a quote taken from Neils Bohr and later restated by Yogi Berra, “prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”  This set the tone of his argument that “modeling predictions are not infallible” and that “when we encounter those who claim to know precisely what our future climate will look like, and then attack any who may disagree with them, we have stepped out of the arena of science and into the arena of politics and ideology.”  In his view, “once the scientific analysis is complete, we must then make value judgments and economic decisions based on a real understanding of the costs and benefits of any proposed actions.  It is through this lens that we should review the President’s forthcoming executive actions and proposed regulations.”

Chairman Smith echoed Stewart’s tone in his opening statement stating that “there is still a great amount of uncertainty associated with our understanding of human influences on climate.”  He was concerned that the Administration now seeks to lock in an inflexible regulatory framework based on a limited understanding of the challenge” of global warming.  He referred to several federal agencies that have implemented policies on climate change which have, in his opinion, “driven up energy prices, burdened employers and cost us jobs.”  Smith pointed to the Environmental Protection Agency which he indicated has stated that “cutting US emissions will have little or no effect on global greenhouse gas concentration due to growing emissions in the developing world.” 

Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) opened with the statement that “the reality of climate change is increasingly impossible to deny” as she cited “countless peer-reviewed studies” which have “shown that climate change is real and that humans are a significant contributing factor.”  She indicated that “we must shift the debate to planning and discuss what actions we should take to mitigate the environmental, economic, and health effects that will inevitably hit.”  She emphasized that the US is a large producer of greenhouse gases and supported the development of policies to reduce greenhouse gasses.  Bonamici also highlighted how climate change affects the US economy, specifically mentioning the effects that ocean acidification has on the shellfish industry. 

Science Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) highlighted organizations including the American Geophysical Union and American Physical Society, both AIP Member Societies, which have acknowledged that there is consensus that “the world is warming and most of the warming is being caused by humans.”  She stated that “many openly dispute the science or allude to some unspecified but supposedly vast scientific conspiracy.  Others, while less conspiratorial, insist that nothing can be done about the problem.  This is a failure of leadership of the highest order.” 

Three witnesses testified.  Judith Curry, Professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology provided Members with an overview of both sides of the hypothesis that humans are playing a dominant role in global warming.  While she acknowledged that adding more carbon dioxide into the environment will warm the planet, “reliable predictions of the impact of carbon dioxide requires better understanding of climate variability.”  She questioned how there can be such a strong consensus about climate change when there are uncertainties.

William Chameides, Dean and Professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University countered some of Curry’s testimony stating that he finds “some of her statements to be problematic.”   He noted that a paper cited in Curry’s testimony concluded that “virtually all of the net warming over the past 100 years can be attributed to human activity.”  His recommendations included developing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  He also strongly advocated for the need for an “iterated response management approach” to climate policy “that systematically and continuously identifies risks, advances a portfolio of actions that reduces risks, and revises responses in light of new knowledge.”

Bjorn Lomborg, President of the Copenhagen Consensus Center agreed with Chameides that global warming is man-made as he emphasized that “we have done almost nothing,” referring to the Kyoto approach that he thought was not working.  He urged Members to “recognize that the current strategies are only a small part of the solution” as he noted that “whatever we do, it will have long-term impacts.”  He agreed that there is a need to get China and the developing world involved in climate discussions as he acknowledged that “green energy is not really ready to take over from fossil fuels” due to high costs and because “deployment does not in general create new jobs.”

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