Field of Science


Time to Move On

There's a new House of Representatives in town--and that means new discussions about climate change. Or, more likely, the same old discussions.

Yesterday, ScienceInsider published an interview with new Republican representative Mo Brooks, who will be chairing a House subcommittee on science research. One of Brooks's priorities is to hold public hearings on climate change.
Q: There have been lots of hearings over the years by Congress, including the science committee...
MB: But I haven't been on those committees.
If only someone had recorded what happened!

Brooks is a self-described skeptic when it comes to global warming. "I haven't seen anything that convinces me," he says. When asked if he thinks we should try to slow down our greenhouse gas emissions, he answered,
I'm very much the outdoorsman. But having said that, with respect to carbon dioxide emissions, there's some good associated with that, to the extent that we have higher levels of carbon dioxide. That means that plant life grows better, because it is an essential gas for all forms of plant life. Does that mean I want more of it? I don't know about the adverse effects of carbon dioxide on human beings. I'm not familiar with any, at present levels.
Oh my.

I've already addressed the standard arguments of climate change deniers, such as "Climate is cyclical," "There's no evidence for global warming," and "I hate the cold." The argument that burning fossil fuels helps plants was new to me. But it turns out to be a central argument of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a nonprofit partially funded by ExxonMobil.

That group was also the author of an open letter to Congress published on Tuesday. The letter's 68 signatories urge members of Congress to "make up your own minds about the matter."
Don't be intimidated by false claims of "scientific consensus" or "overwhelming proof." These are not scientific arguments and they are simply not true.
In addition to various conservative websites and climate skeptic blogs, the letter was published on the website for the Heartland Institute. This nonprofit has received hundreds of thousands in funding from (again) ExxonMobil. They've also gotten plenty of funding from Philip Morris, and one of their long-term projects has been to argue that second-hand smoke doesn't cause cancer.

All this was triggered by another open letter to Congress on February 1. This one was signed by 18 scientists and starts, "As you begin your deliberations in the new 112th Congress, we urge you to take a fresh look at climate change." The letter asks for hearings that address the "likely costs and benefits of action and inaction" on climate change, and not hearings that "attempt to intimidate scientists."
Congress needs to understand that scientists have concluded, based on a systematic review of all the evidence, that climate change caused by human activities raises serious risks to our national and economic security and our health both here and around the world. It's time for Congress to move on to the policy debate.
It remains to be seen whether Congress will, in fact, accept the science and move on. If we could block out the voices of oil companies and science deniers, maybe we could stop treading water and figure out what to do about this rising ocean.

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