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A Congressional Hearing on Climate Change Turned Into a Circus of Absurdist Climate Denial

Only one scientist was present.

CARLY CASSELLA, SCIENCE AS FACT
18 MAY 2018
 

Global sea level is not rising. Global sea level is rising, but it's not due to climate change. Global sea level is rising, but it's not due to global warming, it's due to soil and rocks falling into the sea.

 

These are just some of the inconsistent and absurdist arguments that Republican lawmakers put forward at a recent House Science Committee hearing on "Using Technology to Address Climate Change."

The hearing should have been about how the US government can use technology to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Instead, run by one of the most infamous climate deniers in Congress, it inevitably devolved into a debate on the truthfulness of climate change research itself.

As chairman, Representative Lamar Smith did nothing but feed the circus of climate denial.

"In the field of climate science, there is legitimate concern that scientists are biased in favor of reaching predetermined conclusions," he said in his opening remarks.

"This inevitably leads to alarmist findings that are wrongfully reported as facts. Anyone who then questions the certainty of these findings is wrongly labelled a denier."

He further argued that to predict environmental conditions hundreds of years from now ignores our ability to adapt and innovate.

"It is also intentionally misleading: the ultimate fake news."

Let's be really clear here: the chairman of the Science committee just argued that climate models are the ultimate fake news.

 

Of the three speakers invited to testify at the hearing, only one came equipped with the scientific expertise to correct Smith. The other two - Oren Cass and Ted Nordhaus - have testified in front of the committee before, drawing on classic climate denial arguments.

PhD physicist Phil Duffy, the president of the Woods Hole Research Center and former senior adviser to the US Global Change Research Program, spent most of his speaking time bringing the lawmakers back to reality.

In Duffy's opening remarks, he quoted the fourth National Climate Assessment, which was released by the Trump administration last November.

"This assessment concludes that it is extremely likely that human activities especially emissions of greenhouse gases are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid twentieth century," he read aloud.

"There's no convincing alternative explanation."

The information did nothing to quell the ensuing climate denial talking points.

Giving himself an extra minute to speak, Smith put up two graphs that showed no correlation between sea level rise and carbon emissions.

"I just want to put that up there for our edification. I was going to ask Dr. Curry about it, but I think it kind of speaks for itself," Smith said, referring to an expert who could not make it to the hearing.

 

Duffy was not going to let the graphs slide.

"I'd be happy to comment on that Mr Chair," he said.

"You know you've shown a sea level record from one location, which is San Francisco. The rate of global sea level rise has accelerated and is now four times faster than it was a hundred years ago."

"Is this chart inaccurate then?" Lamar asked.

"It's accurate, but it doesn't represent what's happening globally. It represents whats happening in San Francisco," Duffy explained.

"Okay all the charts I've seen whether it be San Francisco, whether it be Boston, or anywhere else show about the same degree of increase," Smith replied.

"I'm welcome to look at whatever you want to propose, but - "

"I'd be happy to show that to you," Duffy said.

"These are objective charts that I've seen, though. Thank you, Dr. Duffy," Smith said.

The argument is classic scientific cherrypicking. If Smith bothered to look at NASA's comprehensive graph on global sea level rise, he would have found something completely different.

SeaLevel

But Smith was not discouraged by Duffy's correction. Later, the chairman presented an op-ed from the The Wall Street Journal, written by a member of the Heartland Institute, which promotes the rejection of mainstream climate science.

Smith must not have noticed that the article, titled "The sea is rising but not because of climate change," completely refuted his previous graphs that showed sea levels were not rising.

 

Still, the most illogical argument was yet to come.

When it was Representative Mo Brooks' turn to speak, he gave an incorrect statement that ended with a loaded question, "Ever since human beings have been on the planet, sea levels have risen relative to ground levels. Why is that?"

Duffy tried to explain that sea level rise has actually fluctuated since humans have been present on Earth.

"Let's assume for a moment that what you're talking about has some kind of factual, rational basis for it, that ice has melted. Are there other factors?" Brooks asked.

Duffy again tried to explain.

"Hey, Dr. Duffy. You're not answering my question again," Brooks interrupted.

"Every time you have that soil or rock deposited into the seas, that causes the sea level to rise, because now you've got less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up," Brooks explained to the scientist.

Duffy tried to interject but was unsuccessful.

"What about the white cliffs of Dover, California, where time and time again you're having the waves crash against the shorelines, and time and time again, you're having the cliffs crash into the sea. All that displaces water, which forces it to rise, does it not?" Brooks continued.

"I'm pretty sure that on human time scale, those are minuscule effects," Duffy replied calmly.

Rocks and soil have been falling into the ocean for millions of years. There is no explanation for why they would be causing significant sea level rise only now.

Scientist agree that the pace at which sea levels are rising is due to two primary factors: melting ice sheets and glaciers, and the expansion of seawater as it warms.

But no wonder Brooks was looking for another explanation. He believes the Antarctic ice sheet is actually growing, despite the fact that NASA researchers have found Antarctica's ice loss has accelerated in the last decade.

"We have satellite records clearly documenting a shrinkage of the Antarctic ice sheet and an acceleration of that shrinkage," Duffy said.

"I'm sorry, but I don't know where you're getting your information, but the data I have seen suggests- " Brooks said.

"The National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration," Duffy answered.

"Well, I've got a NASA base in my district, and apparently, they're telling you one thing and me a different thing," Brooks said.

"But there are plenty of studies that have come that show with respect to Antarctica that the total ice sheet, particularly that above land, is increasing, not decreasing. Now, you could make a different argument if you want to talk about Greenland or the Arctic."

Throughout the whole debacle, Democrats tried to pull the conversation back on track. Remember: the lawmakers were supposed to be speaking about using technology to address climate change.

"Climate is a complex and critically important issue," said ranking member of the committee Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson.

"We cannot do good oversight if we only hear from those who we have already heard. Despite the title of this hearing, none of the witnesses invited by the majority are themselves developers of technologies used in climate adaptation."

With Lamar Smith chairing the committee, it is unlikely that more scientists will be invited to the next hearing.

This article was originally published by Science As Fact.

Science As Fact is our sister site where we cover politics, debunking, fact checking, and humour. If you want more like this, head over to Science As Fact.

 

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