In GOP-run House, has science left the building?
I was optimistic when I began reading the Washington Post op-ed on climate change by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), current chairman of the House Science Committee. He began with a plea for a thoughtful and objective discussion of climate science. But like Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown, he quickly dashed my hopes as he proceeded to provide a one-sided view of the state of climate science.
Rep. Smith neglected to acknowledge that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 18 U.S. professional scientific societies [PDF] agree that climate change is real and that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from human activities are now the primary driver of it. He also forgot to mention sea-level rise, which is already increasing the risk from every storm to coastal communities in Massachusetts and around the nation. There was no mention of the shift in rainfall patterns to more extreme downpours, or that the ocean’s chemistry is changing [PDF] as it warms up and absorbs carbon dioxide.
The extreme weather events of the past few years go unmentioned in Rep. Smith’s piece. Americans have watched homes engulfed by wildfires, crops decimated by drought, and infrastructure twisted like a pretzel during Superstorm Sandy. Last week, an analysis estimated that U.S. taxpayers paid a $96 billion bill for cleanup after climate-related disasters in 2012 alone. I recently launched a new House Natural Resources Democrats app that shows the costs of extreme weather, both in terms of dollars spent and lives lost.
Curiously, Rep. Smith’s climate piece ignores the global temperature records of NOAA and NASA that show 2010 as the hottest year on record since 1880, and the decade ending in 2009 as the hottest decade on record. He also ignores the results of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study conducted by independent — and formerly skeptical — scientists who also found that global land temperatures have been increasing and that heat-trapping gases are driving that rise. Instead, he relies on a temperature record produced by U.K. scientists that he [PDF] and other Republicans have previously — falsely, it turns out — accused of conspiring to alter temperature data. Choosing the temperature record that best fits your argument, especially when it is from a group you questioned just a few years ago, hardly seems objective.
I would welcome, as Rep. Smith writes, a “legitimate evaluation of policy options” by Congress for dealing with climate change and its impacts. Indeed, it was my honor to lead then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, where we held more than 80 hearings and a rigorous bipartisan discussion on both climate science and climate solutions. Sadly, when Tea Party Republicans took control of the House in 2010, one of the very first things they did was eliminate the Select Committee.
One thing I learned in hearing after hearing in the Select Committee was how investing in climate solutions will create jobs in America. The public has learned the same lesson. That is why there is such strong support for improving energy efficiency and using more wind, solar, and natural gas, all ways to reduce carbon pollution. Rep. Smith failed to mention any of those technologies. He instead focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry dirty tar sands from Canada to a tax-free haven in the Gulf of Mexico. From there, Canadian oil giant TransCanada may export that oil to other countries. That would leave America with all the environmental risk and little economic reward while increasing emissions of dangerous heat-trapping gases that are warming our planet.
This would be just another cry from the fringes if it weren’t mainstream Republican thought on climate change. It’s a disappointing fall for the party that once saw President Nixon launch the EPA, President George H.W. Bush introduce a cap-and-trade system, and Sen. John McCain write a market-based climate bill.
Yet last Congress was easily the most anti-environmental session in history. House Republicans even put the scientific finding that climate change is real up for a vote, and then voted against reality. So far in 2013, we’ve seen the same story, with Republicans pushing Keystone XL, blocking the EPA nominee, and questioning climate science at every turn.
This cycle of climate-change denial and fossil-fuel boosterism won’t end until Americans demand that it does. Demand action; demand reality; demand it now.