Senate Republicans Ran a Really Weird Hearing on Climate Change
You are entering the world of another dimension—a dimension of sight (look at the people who don’t like scientists), of sound (people talking a lot), and of mind (well, maybe not so much). There’s the signpost for the Dirksen Senate Office Building up ahead. Your next stop: Senator Ted Cruz’s hearing on climate change earlier this week, which felt very much like something from the Twilight Zone.
Cruz himself is an intense guy in a dark suit—but that’s where the evident similarities between the senator and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling end. Serling was an abject, romantic humanist. Cruz’s hearing was more like one of the side-shifted worlds Twilight Zone stories always seemed to happen in, at the crossroads of science and superstition, fear and knowledge.
Stranger than the choreography and theatrics (police tossed a protester, Cruz spent plenty of time denouncing a witness who either didn’t show up or wasn’t invited, and a Canadian blogger barely contained his anger during a back-and-forth with Democratic Senator Ed Markey) was the topsy-turvy line of questioning pursued by Cruz, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Competitiveness.
He opened the hearing—“Data or Dogma: Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate”—with a tale of a 2013 expedition by New Zealand scientists. They were investigating Antarctic sea ice—”ice that the climate-industrial complex had assured us was vanishing,” Cruz said. “It was there to document how the ice was vanishing in the Antarctic, but the ship became stuck. It had run into an inconvenient truth, as Al Gore might put it. Facts matter, science matters, data matters.”
So OK. To bolster that us-versus-them narrative, Cruz invited scientists who believe they are being persecuted (or denied government funding)—just like Galileo was by the Catholic Church, they kept saying.
The other side of the aisle responded that these scientists aren’t being funded because their research and ideas don’t measure up to peer-review standards—or are just plain wrong.
Audience, let’s meet our players.
John Christy, atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama. He developed the first satellite measurements of the earth’s atmosphere and even edited a chapter of the 2001 IPCC report, which combines data and studies from hundreds of climate researchers around the world. In recent years, Christy has criticized existing climate models, stated that warming is not the fault of humans, and said the consequences of shifting from fossil fuels will hurt the economy and cause more poverty. “The attempt to study climate change is thwarted by the federal process,” Christy testified. “Our thermometers only tell us what has happened, not why it happened.”
Christy’s own satellite datasets have come under fire in the past decade, and he has been forced to revise them several times. Other scientists note that the satellite record is just one dataset about the health of the planet. Surface measurements of temperature show that 2015 will be the hottest year on record.
During his testimony, Christy called for a “red team” of skeptics like himself to counter the “groupthink” of mainstream climate science.
Judith Curry, atmospheric scientist at Georgia Tech. She says science still has too much uncertainty about how bad warming will be, and whether it’s caused by industrial emissions or natural events like solar cycles and changes in ocean circulation. Curry also says she’s been bullied, shunned and attacked by lawmakers for her unpopular beliefs. In February, Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva included both Christy and Curry in his investigation into funding sources of several scientists who have questioned climate science. Grijalva was inspired by a climate skeptic at Harvard-Smithsonian, Wei-Hock Soon, who got $1.25 million in undisclosed funds from fossil-fuel firms.
William Happer, retired Princeton physicist. He testified that carbon dioxide is getting a bad reputation and won’t hurt life on Earth. “I would like to set the record straight that carbon dioxide is not a pollution. We are breathing it out every time we breathe,” Happer said. “We are fundamentally in a carbon dioxide famine. The carbon dioxide levels are too low and oxygen levels are too high.”
–Mark Steyn, a Canadian jazz singer, author and conservative commentator. The night before the hearing Steyn had been on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox to denounce President Obama’s ISIS strategy.
Here’s an example of Steyn’s expertise:
So he didn’t make a scientific case as such. Steyn lambasted the Democratic “politico-climate nexus” that he believes is really about government trying to control the economy. He also went after the former Navy Rear Admiral and meteorologist sitting next to him on the witness table. “Rear Admiral Titley has said it’s time for the politicking for stop,” Steyn told the panel. “That in itself is politicking.” Which is deeply meta, because Steyn was trying to sway professional politicians. If you can’t politic in a senate office building, where can you politic?
Steyn was a dramatic, angry witness, grabbing his neck, throwing his hands up in exasperation, and rolling his eyes during statements by Democrats like Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who compared the fight against global warming to the fight against communism that inspired the space race.
The Republicans’ message is “Houston, we do not have a problem,” Markey said. “That is the wrong scientific message. They are once again questioning integrity of scientific community and the basic principles behind climate change. The only thing that requires a serious scientific investigation is why we are holding this hearing in the first place.”
Not invited were researchers from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the National Science Foundation, or National Academies of Sciences.
Which isn’t to say the Democratic minority on the committee, led by Michigan Senator Gary Peters, didn’t try. They presented letters from nearly a dozen scientific organizations—representing climatologists, meteorologists, ecologists, geophysical scientists, geologists, chemists, soil scientists and crop scientists. All said that climate change is real and that humans are the cause.
The Democrats called one witness: former Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, a meteorologist who led the Navy’s response to climate change as a potential security threat from 2009 until 2013. “In the military, you don’t always have perfect information,” he said. “We still make decisions based on what we know. If you want for 100 percent certainty on the battlefield, you will probably be dead. Let’s not do that.”
Sound advice. But name an episode of Twilight Zone where anyone listens to that.