For a few hours yesterday, climate science was not the target of attacks in Congress.
Researchers, diplomats and policy experts warned about the dangers of ignoring clear research showing that humans are warming the planet at an alarming rate in an unofficial hearing hosted by Democratic lawmakers.
The discussion was an alternative to the recent hearings in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, run by Chairman Lamar Smith, the conservative Texas Republican who has accused federal climate scientists of engaging in a global conspiracy. He has subpoenaed researchers whose work negates the idea that climbing temperatures have paused, a key talking point for climate skeptics.
Whereas the Republican-led hearings emphasize, and sometimes exaggerate, uncertainties in climate science, the roundtable yesterday hosted by committee Democrats focused on its alarming findings.
The discussion was meant to show that lawmakers are not yielding the climate discussion to those who reject mainstream science, said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee's ranking member.
“We feel very strongly that the persons who believe in the scientific research should have an opportunity to be heard, and not to just sit by and let the skeptics do all the talking just because they're in charge right now,” she said.
That such a hearing would be held is a picture of America at this political moment, where scientific research that captures the attention of leaders elsewhere in the world is often viewed with suspicion.
Conservative lawmakers in other countries often recognize the overwhelming science that shows humanity's role in climate change and have signed on to address the challenge of scaling back carbon emissions.
And while climate policy will long be debated by conservatives and liberals, the rejection of its scientific underpinnings seems like a phenomenon that's unique to America, said David O'Sullivan, ambassador of the E.U. delegation to the United States.
Conservatives in other countries have accepted that the science is real and are looking for solutions because “in Europe, the debate is over,” he said.
“There is a much, much greater consensus in Europe about the fact that climate change is a problem, that human intervention is heavily responsible for it and that we need to act to intervene in it to slow that down or correct it,” O'Sullivan said. “I am sometimes surprised by the liveliness of the debate about whether or not climate change is real or whether human intervention is responsible here in the United States.”
Republicans have moved quickly to scale back federal funding for science in recent weeks. The Trump administration proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, and the House Science Committee has advanced legislation that critics say would weaken science used to craft regulations.
Yesterday, U.S. EPA revealed that it was not renewing the terms of dozens of members of its board of scientific advisers, who review legislation. Trump did not cite scientific research when he withdrew the United States from the international Paris climate agreement a few weeks ago, though the agreement was based on science.
Nuclear war and global warming
Researchers at the hearing said that Trump's past description on global warming as a “hoax” has damaging consequences. Scientists are now duty-bound to speak out in public to defend their work, said Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“I don't believe in trickle-down ignorance, that when ignorance is manifest at the highest levels, when words like 'hoax' [and] 'conspiracy' are used right at the top. Those words matter, others hear them. Cutting the funding for science is concerning, but cutting the legitimacy for science, undercutting basic scientific understanding, is just as concerning,” he said.
This week, two of Trump's Cabinet secretaries questioned basic climate science. In an interview on CNBC on Monday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry claimed that carbon dioxide emissions are not the primary driver of climate change. Scientists say they are.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made a similar claim earlier this year, even though it's an established basis of climate science that humans are warming the Earth through activity like driving cars.
As the roundtable discussion was being held in the Rayburn House Office Building yesterday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was in a budget hearing across the street, questioning the accuracy of climate models widely relied upon by researchers.
Democrats acknowledged that there will always be political differences on climate policy, but they said climate science should not be a victim of that fight.
“Of all the tragedies of the Trump administration, potentially the greatest is the destruction of our climate science, the withdrawal from Paris, the gutting of the EPA, the appointment of Pruitt and, absent Trump putting us in danger of a nuclear war, the thing that could affect the lives of billions of people on this planet is climate change, and the U.S. has given up its leadership,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.