House Republicans and the Never-Ending Stream of Climate Nonsense

Lately, Republicans in the House of Representatives have been derided for their attitudes for climate change here. This is not because of any political ill will but because of their ignorance that is absolutely appalling. It brings me no pleasure to write about people who earn $174,000 a year to be informed decision makers being anything but. But in the interest of shedding light on what goes on on Capitol Hill, here’s the latest installment.

Today the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held climate science hearings. The committee brought together a panel to discuss what the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas regulations would mean to the economy and if they were even warranted.

One of those scientists was Richard Muller, a physicist from the University of California-Berkeley. Climate deniers have often championed his work because of he’s criticized of the temperature records used to show the globe is warming. He recently started reviewing the different temperature datasets, using new methods to pinpoint more exact temperature trends over land.

He presented his preliminary findings at the hearing, and they probably weren’t what Republican lawmakers were hoping for. They showed the datasets tightly correlated with each other. What’s more, each one shows a distinct warming trend. In his testimony he said: “We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups… ased on our initial work at Berkeley Earth, I believe that some of the most worrisome biases are less of a problem than I had previously thought.” (emphasis added)

The datasets Muller tested include one from the Climate Research Unit, which was at the center of the Climategate non-controversy. Could Climategate finally be retired?

Of course not. Despite the evidence, Republicans and one of their witnesses, State Climatologist of Alabama John Christy, repeatedly went back to Climategate throughout the hearing. It became so ridiculous that Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) at one point irately pointed out the seven reports that have exonerated the scientists, saying, “we have to get off of this.”

Unfortunately, Climategate is one of two major Republican talking points so we’ll likely be subjected to it for quite awhile.

The other big non-issue Republicans consistently brought up is a Time magazine cover from the 1970s with a headline about global cooling. Yes, one of the US’s major political parties is using a magazine cover as proof climate scientists don’t know what they’re talking about. Unfortunately for Republicans, this claim is also patently false.

Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the scientists that testified today, called this argument out. In the 1970s, there was no consensus on global cooling at all. Rather, the media built a story around a small set of scientists’ work. A 2008 article published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society shows this in a crystal clear graph showing academic papers from 1965 to 1979 that predict warming, cooling, or neutral temperatures in the near future.

But why let facts get in the way? Republicans cited it again and again. Rep. Morris Brooks (R-AL) even pulled up the cover image on his phone during the hearing.

At least the voice of reason showed up at a few points in the hearing. Emanuel had the quote of the day. His work primarily focuses on hurricanes and climate change. During the hearing, he railed against politicians lionizing researchers like Christy: “politicians who make mascots out of mavericks are invariably engaging in advocacy."

No Republican had a good answer, though Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) got sufficiently flustered about it. And the reason they had no good answers is that that’s what the Republican argument against climate change has been reduced to: a few discredited talking points and a mascot who will preach the party line and conspiracy theories.

The lasting irony of Emanuel pointing this out is his politics: he’s a Republican. Unfortunately, his fellow Republicans in the room today didn’t share his views or intellectual curiosity.

Photo credit: Travis S./flickr