“Science”: Committee Show Hearing on Climate Change
March 29, 2017
Actually starts about 16:00 in.
Mike Mann’s best line on Chairman Smith’s use of the phrase “scientific method” –
“I don’t think that means what you think it means.”
Presiding over this shitstorm was, of course, Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who has been Chair of the committee since Republicans took the House in 2012. No one would claim that Smith held back when it came to climate change while President Obama was in office, but having fellow climate deniers installed at the White House seems to have given him an extra bit of joie de vivre. Nothing like some honest-to-god momentum toward planetary destruction to add a little spring to one’s step!
Speaking of momentum, the hearing came a day after President Trump signed an executive order aimed at rolling back progress the Obama administration made on climate, ostensibly to bring back coal jobs (not happening, ever), and a couple of weeks after a “skinny budget” from the White House suggested cutting just about everything science-related you can think of, and climate-related programs in particular. The hearing featured one widely-respected climate scientist—Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State—and three Republican invitees whose views on climate change, if we’re being charitable, lie somewhat outside mainstream scientific consensus: Judith Curry, professor emeritus at Georgia Tech; John Christy, professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama at Huntsville; and Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado.
The witnesses, along with some of the Committee members, repeated a number of claims that the GOP has clung to for decades now: The climate models don’t match reality (yes they do); extreme weather events, like hurricanes and droughts, are in no way linked to climate change (yes they are); there was a consensus in the 1970s that the world was cooling (not even close to true); and so on. Multiple people even brought up the ClimateGate “scandal,” involving hacked emails and accusations of fiddling with data, which was investigated to death with no evidence of wrongdoing years ago.
As Democratic Congressman Bill Foster—the only member of Congress with a PhD in a scientific field—put it at one point during the hearing: “This is a very strange mixture of science and… not.” When Mann quoted a recent article in Science calling out Smith for using the committee for political gain, the chairman interrupted him to say that that journal—Science!—“is not known as an objective magazine.”
It was, overall, a horrendously depressing display of scientific illiteracy, but there were some odd bits of optimism to be found. The witnesses all agreed at various points that yes, the climate is changing and that humans play a role (though they disagreed, contrary to overwhelming evidence, on the magnitude of that role), and they also agreed that the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to Earth-observing systems at NASA, NOAA, and elsewhere are a monumentally dumb idea.
What’s more, perhaps the best point was made by one of the GOP witnesses, Roger Pielke, Jr.: “Scientific uncertainty is not going to be eliminated on this topic before we have to act.”
In other words, not knowing everything is not a justification for doing nothing. But that’s just what opponents of action seize on all the time—uncertainty, to them, means nothing is certain. “Before we impose costly government regulations, we should evaluate scientific uncertainties and ascertain the extent to which they make it difficult to quantify humans’ contribution to climate change,” Smith said in his opening statement, ignoring the vast piles of evidence on that very topic.