Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, held a hearing today titled “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method” examining “the scientific method and process as it relates to climate change.” Mostly, of course, it was a chance for Smith—a prominent climate change skeptic who has harassed and subpoenaed NOAA scientists on faulty grounds and attacked state attorneys general for investigating Exxon, and who has received $700,000 from the oil and gas industries over his career—to portray scientists as a group of squabbling children, and the basic facts of climate change as a question up for considerable debate.
Smith began by claiming that he believes the climate is changing and that humans play a role, but his remarks quickly devolved into a lecture on the scientific method and “scientific integrity”—he is not a scientist—and an attack on “alarmist theories” brought on by scientists that he claimed, without a hint of irony, are promoting a “personal agenda.”
Three of the four scientists brought to testify are skeptical of mainstream climate change science, which Democrats repeatedly noted was a wild misrepresentation of the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue. Judith Curry, the former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology (she recently retired from her tenured position citing “growing disenchantment with universities, the academic field of climate science and scientists”), has emphasized uncertainties in climate science and recently performed a series of rhetorical backflips to defend EPA head Scott Pruitt’s claim that carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of global warming. Roger Pielke, Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado, is not a climate scientist and has claimed that “in fact we are in an era of good fortune when it comes to extreme weather”; while John Christy, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama, has asserted that global warming is happening and human-caused, but thinks predictions on its impact are overstated and reining in carbon emissions is unnecessary.
The Democrats invited Michael E. Mann, a Penn State climate scientist who has authored some of the most significant studies on climate change and who has been a repeated target for harassment by the climate denial movement. Mann’s valuable point about the “chilling effect” of such harassment—“the progress of science that we have relied upon as a nation relies on the ability of researchers to carry out unfettered investigations into the natural world”—was undercut by Republican committee members who seized on his criticisms of Judith Curry, whom he had referred to as a “denier of climate science”; Rep. Darren LaHood (R-IL) at one point suggested that Mann, who has received death threats and once an envelope filled with white powder, is “overly sensitive to criticism,” citing his filing of a defamation lawsuit as proof that maybe he is a hypocrite.
When Mann tried to testify on statements Rep. Smith had made at the Heartland Institute’s annual “climate change denier conference,” which he described as a “climate change -denying, Koch Brothers-funded outlet”—both true facts—Smith interrupted to demand that Mann not “mischaracterize that conference” and that they “do not say that they are deniers.” When Mann quoted Science Magazine’s assessment of Smith’s frankly terrifying remarks at the conference, Smith countered that Science Magazine—SCIENCE MAGAZINE—is not “objective.” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) later yelled at Mann that he ought to be “ashamed” of himself.
It was, all in all, an incredibly frustrating and upsetting two hours, although Pielke at one point acknowledged that “scientific uncertainty on this topic is not going to be eliminated before we have to act” and suggested a low carbon tax (someone’s not getting asked back!) and Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT) managed to extract concessions from all of the witnesses that they did not think Trump should cut funding for scientific research from the budget. Esty’s forceful statement, starting at around 2:28:19, is worth watching in full.
Take in the whole mess here: