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Press Releases :: April 1, 2011

Committee Democrats Concerned that Hearing Fails to Address Scientific Basis for Action on Climate Change

(Washington, DC) –On Thursday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing titled, “Climate Change: Examining the Processes Used to Create Science and Policy”.  Testifying before the Committee were six witnesses: three scientists; a business school professor of marketing; an energy industry lawyer; and an economist. Topics for witness testimony and Committee Member questions ranged from the scientific foundations of climate change, to the controversy over stolen emails between the since-exonerated researchers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, to the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding that greenhouse gas emissions qualify as air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act.

Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) began by highlighting the importance of hearings to explore climate science.  She stated, “Political opinions on climate change vary greatly, and nowhere more than here in the U.S. Congress.  As one who accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus around climate change, I welcome the opportunity for this Committee to hear a number of perspectives on climate science.  However, I believe this hearing will fall far short of providing a meaningful discourse on the subject.”

She continued by expressing her concern with the focus of the hearing and the makeup of the witness panel. She stated, “I am disappointed in the very broad scope of this hearing, which arguably ranges beyond the jurisdiction of this Committee, without sufficient numbers of witnesses to do the topics justice.  I believe that a subject as complex as we are attempting to cover today warrants, at the very least, multiple panels, if not multiple hearings.  To hope to adequately cover everything from basic science to regulatory policy in one 2-hour hearing strikes me as too ambitious, if not a little negligent.”

She continued, “Likewise I am disappointed by the makeup of the panel today.  By that I mean no disrespect to these men or the quality of their work.  However, for years we, Democrats, have been accused of ignoring a large subset of the climate science community that, in varying degrees, does not subscribe to the conclusions of the IPCC or otherwise does not accept that the climate is changing, and that it is largely due to human activity.   We have been told that these scientists’ voices have been squashed by a wide-ranging conspiracy, and that under the new House leadership they would finally have a platform to dispel the alarmists’ mistruths about the science of global climate change. Well, where are they? Where are the masses of legitimate expert witnesses who will corroborate the assertion that climate change is an unproven theory, or worse, a hoax?  I don’t see them here today.”

Despite the assertions by some Committee members that climate change was unproven, the panel appeared to agree that anthropogenic global change is real. When Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) asked who, if any, of the six witnesses would declare that climate change is not happening and that human activity does not play a role in the change, all but one remained silent.

Investigations and Oversight Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD) called attention to the evolving nature and importance of scientific research by stating, “As with any field of science, the continual study of climate science promotes breakthroughs, discoveries, and a gradual improvement in the understanding of the field.  In a field as complex and important as climate science, we can never stop looking, and we must be willing to change as the science evolves.  If we want more certainty, continual investment in the field of climate research should be important to everyone, especially in our monitoring and satellite capabilities.”

This echoed a similar statement made by Ranking Member Johnson earlier in the hearing: “Congress should acknowledge that we are not the experts, and that allowing partisan politics to dictate the scientific understanding of climate change is cynical, short-sighted, and, by definition, ignorant.  I implore my colleagues to recognize the value of research, and resist efforts to defund and destroy the very scientific community that will give us answers.  We may not agree as to where the uncertainties within climate science lie, but we can all understand that vast and avoidable uncertainties will remain if you stop the progress of climate science. “

In his testimony, MIT Professor of Atmospheric Science, Dr. Kerry Emanuel, countered the assertions by some of the witnesses and Members that the scientific community overstates the magnitude and potential impacts of climate change.  He stated, “In assessing risk, scientists have historically been notably conservative. It is part of the culture of science to avoid going out on limbs, preferring to underestimate risk to provoking the charge of alarmism from our colleagues… Far from being alarmist, scientists have historically erred on the side of underestimating risk.”

In addressing the controversy sparked by emails stolen from the Climate Research Unit, Dr. Emanuel, who served on the U.K. Royal Society panel investigating the allegations of scientific misconduct at CRU, stated, “I am appalled at the energetic campaign of disinformation being waged in the climate arena.  I have watched good, decent, hard-working scientists savaged and whole fields of scholarship attacked without merit… Neither we nor several other investigative panels found any evidence of misconduct… The true scandal here is the enormously successful attempt to elevate this single lapse of judgment on the part of a small number of scientists into sweeping condemnation of a whole scholarly endeavor.”


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