Will GOP Give Climate Science a Fair Shake?

March 8th, 2011 at 10:59 am | 22 Comments |

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House Democrats persuaded Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) to hold a hearing today on climate science. At a time when bipartisan gestures are hard to come by, I suppose that this hearing should be viewed as a positive development.

It’s too bad that any credible testimony on climate science is likely to fall on deaf ears in a subcommittee that is stacked with a veritable who’s who of GOP climate change skeptics and shills for fossil fuel interests.

Chief among these is Joe Barton (R-TX) who last week summed up his view on carbon emissions by saying:

I expel carbon dioxide at about 40,000 parts per million … so how in the world can that be a pollutant?

Perhaps someone should point out to Congressman Barton that he, like everyone else, also emits methane and fecal coliform bacteria. Would he use the same logic to argue that those are not pollutants?

There will be a few well-respected climate scientists on hand, such as Dr. Richard Somerville and Dr. Christopher Field, who could set Mr. Barton straight—unfortunately they were invited by the Democrats.

The Republican witness list includes two well-worn contrarians, Dr. John Christy and Dr. Roger Pielke, who basically assert that predicting future climate change is a futile and worthless endeavor, or that there is nothing mankind can do to effectively address it. Thankfully their “can’t do” attitude was not shared by scientists of the past who have cured diseases, sent men to the moon, or helped solve past pollution problems.

The GOP list also curiously enough includes Dr. Donald Roberts. Dr. Roberts is not a climate scientist, but rather a professor of tropical medicine who happens to be a huge fan of the pesticide DDT.  He actually wrote a book on DDT called The Excellent Powder and blames the environmental movement for its banning in the U.S. and sparse use around the world.

Ideally, congressional hearings should represent an honest search for facts by open-minded lawmakers who want to make informed policy decisions.

At a House Science Committee hearing last November, then Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) encouraged climate scientists to welcome the coming GOP led hearings, saying:

Those will be difficult hearings…But I would encourage you to welcome those as fabulous opportunities to teach.

The only hitch in that wise advice is that teachers need students who are willing to learn.

In all likelihood today’s hearing will be nothing more than an adversarial dog and pony show where scientific facts meet impenetrable hard heads, narrow minds and ill-conceived smoke screens.

For all of the efforts of GOP lawmakers to wrap themselves in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, they fail to emulate the resolve for problem solving and thirst for knowledge that led him to heed the warnings of climate scientists and address ozone depletion.

Reagan fully understood his obligations as a public servant and what the stakes were. He articulated this well in his famous 1964 A Time for Choosing speech:

You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.

If the Republicans at today’s climate hearing want to justify their brief moment here, a nice step in the right direction would be to open their minds and learn from the real climate experts in the hearing room—no matter who invited them.


Recent Posts by David Jenkins



22 Comments so far ↓

  • medinnus

    Why would anyone expect this to be anything other than the GOP equivalent of embracing Creationism? The Koch brothers don’t want climate as an issue, so the GOP will hold hearings designed to discredit it, regardless of science.

    They don’t trust science anyways. They’d rather trust in fiction.

  • Nanotek

    One aspect of this debate that I’ve never fathomed is the rationalization by conservatives who argue for socialized pollution. Under free-markets principles, entities bear their own costs. If profits are privatized, so to should be the cost of safely disposing of production waste — rather than spewing toxins into the environment. If a company can socialize production waste, the price of the product does not reflect its production costs — it only temporarily veils a more pressing problem since some of the toxins are lethal.

    Self-proclaimed free-marketeers who argue for the right of companies to pollute the commons needlessly diminish the value of free-markets.

    • LFC

      Two reasons.

      First, there are those that really don’t believe in the free market. They create as many advantages for big business as possible in exchange for campaign contributions and cushy lobbying jobs afterwards. A perfect example is Medicare D being created with the provision that it was not allowed to bargain for drug prices. Billy Tauzin (former R-LA) left a trail of dust after his major part in this travesty as he bolted for the rewards he reaped by screwing over the country.

      Second, there are those that believe that government should never punish business. If you are unhappy that a business has caused the death of people, wildlife, or entire swaths of real estate that they didn’t own, well then don’t buy their products. It’s the head-in-the-sand market theory.

  • corwin613

    CO2 most certainly is a pollutant, even when climate is left out. Ocean acidification from CO2 absorption represents a significant threat to coral reefs and shell fish, and by extension to our food chain. If that science were brought to public attention, it might be enough to shift opinion on our need to control emissions.

  • valkayec

    How can you get actual science learning and teaching when politicians are bought? As long as legislators rely upon special interest donations and lobbing money, there will never be truly good legislation that benefits the entire country and all its citizens.

  • medinnus

    Regardless of the science, taking action to correct it is in no way catastrophic. Not taking action might very well be.

    • busboy33

      Regardless of the science, taking action to correct it is in no way catastrophic.

      Are you insane?!? Taking action would cut into profits . . . what could possibly be more catastrophic than that?

  • LFC

    The data supporting the human causes of climate change is incredibly well documented and universally accepted among actual climate scientists. Holding a Congressional hearing for settled science is a joke.

    And no, pulling some asshat out of the woodwork, many (most?) of whom aren’t even actually climate scientists), is hardly a rebuttal. I’ve already researched a half dozen of these clowns that the right wingnuts trot out and every time their “theories” have huge, gaping, fundamental flaws and/or intentionally ignore data and/or intentionally misrepresent data.

    Then you have people who should know better like George Will who doesn’t even understand what trends are, something I learned in high school, or Bill O’Reilly who is incapable of grasping why warmer (but still sub-freezing) weather produces more snow.

    • ktward

      or Bill O’Reilly who is incapable of grasping why warmer (but still sub-freezing) weather produces more snow.

      No surprise there.
      This is the same guy who recently asserted that the tides were a supernatural phenomenon, and after being schooled about the whole moon thing rebutted with, “Okay, but who put the moon there?”

      Sigh.

  • baw1064

    A little over a year ago, I happened to find myself seated next to a Republican congressman on a flight from DC to Phoenix. I had no idea who he was, until he introduced himself. The whole climategate thing has just come out at the time, and as a scientist, I felt it my duty to attempt to explain some of the technical issues on climate in a non-political way. Actually, we had quite a nice conversation. It’s possible he was humoring me, but I wonder if many people in Congress actually do “get it” a lot more than their public personae, or perceived political interest, allows them to let on.

    • politicalfan

      I am pretty sure that a great ‘lot’ actually do get it.

      Take the $$$ out of elections and let’s just see them debate for office.

  • blogenfreude

    As Rod Serling observed, you have invited these people into your parlor (writing in 1964):

    “[The far right cannot] discount the fact that sitting it their parlor is the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, every racist group in the United States and not a few of some Fascist orders that have scrambled their way up from the sewers to a position of new respectability.”

    The GOP accepting climate change as fact? It is to laugh. Remember – your hero Ronald Reagan went to Philadelphia Mississippi in 1980, where the civil rights workers were slaughtered. But he talked about states rights, not civil rights – that’s dog whistle for ‘scary black people are coming to take your money and belongings.’ And this is the way all Republicans run.

    But the voters you needed to win in 2000 and 2004 are now steering the ship. And it’s your fault – you decided that appealing to Christian wingnut bigots was an OK price to pay to win. Now they’re taking over the GOP, and you can only stand by and watch. Good job David. You have helped to destroy our country … but hey! You can always head back to Canada. You have health insurance (another thing you fought) after all. Thanks for screwing up my country and getting us into the Iraq War. You have blood on your hands.

  • Raskolnik

    Toxic waste and atmospheric pollutants are negative externalities that are currently being subsidized by ineffective/incompetent/toothless EPA regulation. The economic cost to taxpayers is real, but it is currently hidden because there is no one cataloguing exactly how much damage is done where. It doesn’t appear as a nice, neat little item on a budget so it gets ignored.

    What is the opportunity cost of polluting a river so badly that it is effectively cut off from the biosphere?

    Fossil-fuel robber barons don’t get it because it is very difficult to convince a man of something while his salary depends on his not understanding it. Meanwhile, as Lindsey Graham has pointed out, there are a multitude of reasons we should fundamentally re-structure energy production and industrial techniques in the United States that have nothing to do with “climate change.”

    NB: I am not a “climate change” skeptic, I am merely pointing out that if you want to work with such skeptics you need a line of argumentation that appeals to them.

  • politicalfan

    “it is very difficult to convince a man of something while his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    good point.

  • ktward

    Mr. Jenkins.

    Don’t you all at REP ever get tired of stating the obvious?
    Worse, are you all like Mr. Frum– no matter how direly f**ked up your Party is, you’ll continue to loyally pull the lever for the GOP?

    • balconesfault

      ktward – I keep wondering the same

      let’s see – if you want a debate over whether raising taxes would help or hinder the economic recovery, that’s taking place in the Democratic Party. In the GOP, it’s settled – taxes have to always be cut, no matter what

      if you want a debate over the appropriate level of government involvement in the healthcare system, that’s taking place in the Democratic Party. In the GOP, it’s settled, kind of. Government must completely get out of providing healthcare, except where nominally protecting government provided healthcare can give some electoral advantage.

      if you want a debate over what kind of measures we should take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout society without harming our economic recovery, that’s taking place in the Democratic Party. In the GOP, it’s settled – we can’t do anything to prevent climate change (if it’s happening anyway) so we shouldn’t try

      There seem to be a lot of people in the Frum corner who want to debate these issues, but they’re basically conducting a debate in this little corner that the rest of the GOP has decided pretty much to ignore.

      • geojen

        I think you are right, and it is probably because the GOP has been high-jacked by the extreme right. Who is left in the GOP to debate these things? There are very few conservative pundits or party representatives that will take science-deniers and other ignorants to task.

  • djenkins

    balconesfault and ktward:

    For the past two years Democrats had control of the House, the Senate and the White House. Where is that climate legislation that we so desperately need? We cannot do this without a certain level of GOP support. Are you content to let the fate of our environment hang on ever shifting political winds that are typically driven by other issues? Are you willing to have faith that the Democrat solutions are well thought out and do not need a little injection of conservatism? Have you read the Waxman-Markey bill? It is not pretty.

    Making Republicans more green is probably easier than making Democrats more prudent across the range of issues.

    • balconesfault

      For the past two years Democrats had control of the House, the Senate and the White House. Where is that climate legislation that we so desperately need?

      Thanks to the GOP announcing their intention to filibuster any climate change legislation last session – nowhere.

      We cannot do this without a certain level of GOP support.

      That’s wonderful to say. But it’s not coming. If you haven’t noticed, each generation of GOP politicians who get elected are moving farther and farther from being willing to support any climate change legislation.

      There is only one way to imagine passage of meaningful climate change legislation in the next decade – a majority Democratic House paired with a 65 seat Democratic Senate combined with a Democratic President. As unlikely as that is, it’s more likely than getting 20% of the GOP caucus in either the House or Senate to ever support climate change legislation.

      In the most recent poll I’ve seen on party lines, CNN/Opinion Research 2009, 74% of Republicans believe that climate change is either wholly due to natural processes, or isn’t happening at all. That’s why only old guard Repubs like Graham can dare broach the subject – it’s a fatal flaw for any GOP newcomer trying to win a primary to ever acknowledge anthroprogenic sources of climate change.

      Are you content to let the fate of our environment hang on ever shifting political winds that are typically driven by other issues?

      Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? That even people who seem to believe that this is the most important issue of our times choose their party affiliation based on other issues?

      Making Republicans more green is probably easier than making Democrats more prudent across the range of issues.

      If by “green”, you mean supporting climate change legislation – we could not disagree more on this point.

  • djenkins

    Balconesfault:

    First, I have seen many recent polls that show more than 50 percent of Republicans favoring limits on carbon emissions. That number probably matters more than one representing the level of confusion about climate science created by the radical right and the fossil fuel industry.

    You overlooked the fact that GOP Senators Collins, Snowe, Kirk, Brown, McCain, Graham, Corker, Alexander, and Lugar have all basically accepted the sience of climate change and have proposed various solutions. That is getting pretty close to your 20 percent number. The problem is that they all favor different solutions. While that is a major snafu, it is not an insurmountable one.

    You also overlook the face that virtually all of the landmark environmental laws of the past were enacted with significant Republican support. Ramming a partisan bill through is the surest way to doom it over the long term.

  • balconesfault

    I have seen many recent polls that show more than 50 percent of Republicans favoring limits on carbon emissions.

    I’ve seen one – a WaPo poll last summer. But my experience shows that support for limits in the GOP is very soft – those who favor limits don’t make that position a discriminator at all when selecting candidates, while those who oppose limits do.

    You overlooked the fact that GOP Senators Collins, Snowe, Kirk, Brown, McCain, Graham, Corker, Alexander, and Lugar have all basically accepted the science of climate change and have proposed various solutions.

    Perhaps they’ve accepted it – but their thinking on it represents a pile of incoherent mush.

    Collins is ok with pricing carbon if the money is returned to consumers (who would, I imagine, spend the money returned to them on the more expensive carbon?)

    Snowe is ok with legislating carbon if it can absolutely, positively, be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that nobody would ever blame the legislation for harming the economy.

    Kirk believes that the reason we haven’t passed carbon change legislation is because of Al Gore’s marital problems.

    Brown will support climate change legislation if and only if we can make China and India have hard caps as well.

    McCain believes in climate change, and supports Cap and Trade – as long as the Cap and Trade legislation wouldn’t, you know, make it look like Obama was a success.

    Graham last summer declared “The science about global warming has changed. I think they’ve oversold this stuff, quite frankly. I think they’ve been alarmist and the science is in question. The whole movement has taken a giant step backward.”

    Alexander is ok with dealing with climate change, as long as the primary strategy is more nuclear power plants. He doesn’t seem inclined to discuss any other measures.

    Lugar favors legislation dealing with climate change as long as it doesn’t actually focus on dealing with climate change … he has publicly faulted Obama for trying to advance climate change legislation in his first term.

    Corker is the one guy who I see as willing to really consider that climate change legislation might actually be a priority that trumps other issues. He’s not convinced, but he doesn’t dismiss it out of hand either. As such – he may be the only one of the group actually willing to engage in a compromise, rather than just championing their own perception of the elephant.

    You also overlook the face that virtually all of the landmark environmental laws of the past were enacted with significant Republican support.

    I don’t overlook this. I sadly acknowledge it, given that those landmark environmental laws were largely passed when I still considered myself a Republican, by men and women who would have virtually no chance to win a primary in today’s GOP.

    Even Corker was pretty much a climate change denialist prior to his 2006 election – the fact that he’s willing to now consider the science is more a tribute to his ability to have slipped past that particular GOP vetting process than a signal that others could declare their support for climate change legislation and succeed in GOP primaries.

  • Raskolnik

    balconesfault, I tend to like your take on things, and it wouldn’t be accurate to say that you’ve misquoted Senator Graham, but I believe his position is more nuanced than you’re making it seem. As I understand it he is well aware of the need for more environmentally-friendly laws and regulations, he just chooses to emphasize that it isn’t because of climate change solely or even primarily. That there are good reasons for the laws that have nothing to do with the evolving science of climate change.

    And, as reputable scientists who acknowledge anthropogenic global warming are also currently debating amongst themselves, that perhaps there are factors in play other than the amount of carbon dioxide and methane that we emit. That maybe the situation isn’t quite so simple, or that even if it were any solutions are going to have to take into account a much broader picture. That isn’t partisan fundamentalism, it’s good science.