Liberals have been piling on Rep. Lamar Smith and his fellow House Republicans for failing to hold more committee hearings on climate change, but Thursday’s often-heated testimony probably wasn’t what the movement had in mind.
The House Science, Space and Technology Committee heard from scientists who poked holes in the prevailing catastrophic theory of man-made climate change and said researchers are under pressure to support more alarming scenarios.
“The science is not settled, no,” said Roger Pielke Sr., professor emeritus in meteorology at Colorado State University.
University of Sussex economist Richard Tol told the lawmakers, “Science is, of course, never settled.”
“Some things are more or less settled, some things are not,” said Princeton University geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer. “The question of whether carbon dioxide is 30 to 40 percent above pre-industrial times, that’s settled. The question of exactly how warm the Earth will become as a result, that’s not.”
The hearing was held days before the Environmental Protection Agency was to release strict new standards for power plants in the name of combating climate change.
“The Obama administration should stop trying to scare Americans and then impose costly, unnecessary regulations on them,” said Mr. Smith, the Texas Republican who chairs the committee. “When assessing climate change, we need to make sure that findings are driven by science, not an alarmist, partisan agenda.”
The focus of the hearing was the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose latest report in April called for slashing carbon emissions by 40 percent to 70 percent in the next 35 years to avoid what it said would be disastrous global warming.
Mr. Tol, a lead author on one of the panel’s working groups, said the field of climate research suffers from “alarmist bias” and “groupthink.”
“Academics who research climate change out of curiosity but find less-than-alarming things are ignored, unless they rise to prominence, in which case they are harassed and smeared,” Mr. Tol said in testimony to the committee.
Daniel Botkin, professor emeritus in biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the U.N. panel’s 2014 report and the White House National Climate Assessment are “scientific-sounding,” but also present “speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve.”
“I want to state upfront that we have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences,” said Mr. Botkin. “However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are not apocalyptic nor irreversible.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said she worried that the purpose of the hearing was to “cast doubt on the validity of climate change research.”
“I am committed to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop policies that address these new climate realities,” said Ms. Johnson. “But we aren’t going to get very far if we spend our time continually revisiting a scientific debate that has already been settled. Nor will we get far if we continue a recent practice on this committee of seeming to question the trustworthiness and integrity of this nation’s scientific researchers.”
Rep. Paul C. Broun, Georgia Republican, said he objected to the Democrats’ use of the term “settled science” to describe the climate change debate.
“I heard just on the floor yesterday from members of the other party, they were talking about this very issue, that it’s absolutely settled, it’s a closed case,” Mr. Broun said.
“Climate changes all the time, of course,” he said. “It’s called ‘weather.’”
Panelists suggested regular U.N. climate reports at least once a year instead of large reports every five or six years, which they said are outdated almost before they are printed, and forming a separate team of scientists to review the data from an alternative perspective.
“What this should be about is science, and I’m hopeful that we, all of us on either side, whatever we believe can stick to science,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, Indiana Republican.