House Hearing on Climate Change Showcases Republican Ignorance

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held hearings on climate change yesterday. Ostensibly the hearing was a chance to showcase the state of the science. In reality, it showcased a Republican anti-science ignorance and a complete lack of innovation.

The hearing was convened at the request of Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL). The subcommittee is currently considering a bill that would kill the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

To have a “rounded” view of the science, Republicans invited three skeptics while Democrats invited four scientists who accept manmade climate change.

Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY)

Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY)

There was a glimmer of hope in Chairman Ed Whitfield’s (R-KY) opening statement. He talked about how US carbon emissions are lower than China’s. In his mind, this means we have no obligation to act to reduce them since it wouldn’t make a difference globally.

Forget the policy implications of the second part for a minute. Read between the lines of the first and it seems Whitfield tacitly acknowledged that greenhouse gases emitted by humans are causing climate change.

Could we possibly be heading down a road to consensus on the science at least? If only.

Despite Whitman’s implication and similar statements by other Republicans, when presented with the facts about climate change, they consistently flipped to the tired “science isn’t settled enough” argument. Take this quote from Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), referring to dissenting opinions on science: “Just because you might be in the minority doesn’t mean you’re wrong.”

Republicans consistently cited Galileo and Kepler to show that dissent is good for science. And it is. But as Richard Somerville, one of the Democrat’s witnesses, said: ”We’ve heard about the Einsteins, Gallileos, and Keplers. They’re extremely rare.”

So let’s break down Republican justification of inaction. First, question how actions by the US could possibly make a difference. Then lash out and ask why act at all since climate change is just a hoax a bunch of scientists have perpetrated. Finally, imply that those that deny climate change are in the rarified air of Galileo.

About That Science…

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Earlier this week Waxman said this was the most anti-science Congress ever. Of course Republicans blasted him. Yet when it came time to talk science, Republicans seemed more interested in focusing on policy and “gotcha” questions. So did their two of their witnesses, who included discredited Alabama climatologist John Christy, professor of public health Donald Robertson, and professor Roger Pielke Sr.

Of the three, only Pielke Sr. recused himself from answering policy questions. The other two were more than happy to opine that the IPCC was a scam and that the EPA regulations would hurt the economy. Last I checked that wasn’t part of the job description for state climatologist nor the reason this hearing was convened.

In contrast, none of the four witnesses Democrats invited talked policy. They repeatedly said they were only there to talk about the science.

And on that front, they consistently put forward facts about what the causes and effects of climate change are. More importantly, they used hard data and sound research to back them up.

For example, Chris Fields of Stanford’s Carnegie Institution gave specific information on how a changing climate will decrease crop yields once a temperature threshold is crossed. He likened climate change to “an anchor” on agricultural production. In contrast, Christy could only muster anecdotal evidence that he knows farmers in Alabama “who are getting over 240 bushels of corn per acre.”

That was the story all morning. Yet not a single Republican budged. Instead, at the end of the hearing, Whitfield announced they would move forward on a mark up of the bill to kill the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Rep. Jay Insley (D-WA) lamented that it’s “embarrassing” that the country that put the first man on the moon and mapped the human genome can’t agree on climate change. “One of these parties would not accept science until the Arctic ice sheet melts or hell freezes over,” he said during the hearing.

And it’s sad that that’s where Republicans stand. Republicans are the quickest to crow about American exceptionalism yet the last to exemplify it. During the questioning, some Republicans claimed that limiting emissions would relegate us to a “second tier nation.”

Tell that to European Union countries participating in the carbon market. Tell that to the leaders of China who are investing huge amounts of money in bringing clean energy manufacturers to their country. Tell that to Shi Zhengrong, the first person to make a billion dollars in clean energy or the other two solar billionaires in the world. Where did they do it? In China and Germany of course.

The reality is that to live up to the American exceptionalism Republicans invoke so often, this country needs to lead the world on climate change. If yesterday’s hearing was any sign, though, it’s a steep road to climb. Republican ignorance is only making it steeper.

Photo credits: jcolman/Flickr, Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Public Citizen/Flickr

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