Inconceivable! The latest theatrical House 'Science' committee hearing
Posted on 4 April 2017 by dana1981
Last week, the House “Science” committee held one of its regular hearings to dispute the validity of climate science research. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) articulated the purpose of the hearing when speaking at a recent Heartland Institute climate science denial conference:
Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists
the chairman of the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledged that the committee is now a tool to advance his political agenda rather than a forum to examine important issues facing the U.S. research community.
Climate scientist Michael Mann was one of the witnesses testifying in last week’s hearing. In the event’s defining exchange, Mann quoted The Princess Bride, and then proceeded to quote Mervis’ condemnation of Lamar Smith:
Smith responded by asserting “that is not known as an objective writer or magazine,” to which the scientific community collectively gasped in horror. This is the magazine associated with Science which, along with Nature, are the two most highly-respected peer-reviewed scientific journals in the world. Mervis has been writing about science policy for Science magazine for 24 years. Lamar Smith, on the other hand is a contributor to Breitbart, entered a Wall Street Journal op-ed into the congressional record, and said this shortly after President Trump’s inauguration:
All theatrics, not much learning
Unfortunately, as is usually the case in these hearings, despite being presented with the opportunity to learn from climate experts, most of the committee members seemed more interested in expressing their beliefs, however uninformed they might be.
At the 2:04:05 mark in the hearing video, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) provided a perfect example of this behavior. He began by asking witness Judith Curry what causes ice ages (Milankovich cycles, which we’ve known for nearly 100 years), so that he could make the point that natural factors caused past climate changes – a point that usually leads to a common logical fallacy (presented here in cartoon form).
Webster proceeded to claim it was “the standard belief of most scientists” in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an ice age. This is another long-debunked myth; in reality, most climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting impending global warming.
However, some scientists had projected that if the amount of sulfur dioxide pollution in the atmosphere were to quadruple, that would block enough sunlight to cause dramatic cooling. But since that pollution was also causing acid rain, governments developed regulations like the Clean Air Act, and sulfur levels soon declined.
The scientists’ projection wasn’t wrong; rather, the scenario didn’t happen because we took action to prevent it, much like if we take sufficient action to cut carbon pollution, we can prevent dangerous global warming. But Rep. Webster spent most of his allotted time expressing his ideologically-convenient beliefs about how clueless climate scientists are, rather than learning from the experts sitting in front of him. Dr. Mann could easily have explained this myth, but wasn’t given the opportunity.
Pleas for climate risk management
Curry spent most of her time exaggerating climate uncertainties, as she has done for years. In his first question to the witnesses, Lamar Smith made it clear that’s why she was invited (emphasis added):
What are the uncertainties, complexities, biases involved with climate science or the study of climate science that need to be considered before we can actually make informed decisions about what to do about climate science?
To be clear, it’s been decades since we’ve known enough about climate science to understand the need to take action to mitigate its risks. In fact, greater uncertainty translates into greater urgency. When driving a car on a foggy night, slowing down is the wise response to impaired vision; putting the pedal to the metal because of uncertainty as to whether there’s a brick wall ahead would be stupid.
In fact, as Mann explained at the 1:09:36 mark in the video, many climate impacts are happening faster than expected. The brick wall is coming into view. Even one of the Republicans’ own witnesses, Roger Pielke Jr. argued at the 1:57:05 mark for Congress to act:
My view – which may not be popular among anyone here – is that scientific uncertainty is not going to be eliminated on this topic before we have to act ... you guys might think about a low carbon tax
Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) half-jokingly called this “blasphemy.” There was also a consensus among the witnesses that the Trump administration’s proposed slashing of climate research funding would be damaging and counter-productive. If Republicans want to argue that we don’t know enough to take action on climate change, cutting research funding would be grossly hypocritical. That’s like turning off the headlights and putting on sunglasses.
Speaking of consensus, Mann was the only witness who accurately represented the conclusions of 97% of climate science research – a point that was frequently raised during the hearing. Fellow witness John Christy, for example, is among the less than 3% of publishing climate scientists who minimize human-caused global warming. His testimony focused on wrongly claiming that climate models have been falsified, using a flawed, debunked graph.
Eventually, Lamar Smith claimed “there is no consensus; the 97% was derived from a small sample of a small sample.” My colleagues and I have a new paper addressing this claim that will be soon be published, so we’ll return to this myth within the next few weeks.
Republicans stand up for the racketeers
There was one particularly McCarthyesque exchange at the 1:28:50 mark in which Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) inquired:
Dr. Mann, are you affiliated or associated with an association called the Union of Concerned Scientists?
Dr. Mann, are you affiliated or associated with an organization called the Climate Accountability Institute?
This brought to mind a scene from The American President: