For the past couple of years, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology has publicly disparaged and disputed climate science.
The lawmaking committee’s official Twitter account promoted blogs from Breitbart News arguing that the climate is cooling, called the government’s own 2,000-page climate report “a press release from environmental pressure groups,” and cited an article that labeled the historic Paris climate agreement a “fossil-fuel haters club.”
Well, now things have changed.
The House committee is no longer under the leadership of the Republican party, which is candidly opposed to globally-accepted climate science. With the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a veteran Democratic lawmaker from Texas, has become Chairwoman. Johnson has called a hearing for Feb. 12 entitled “The State of Climate Science and Why it Matters,” inviting four scientists to give testimony about major U.S. climate reports and the significance of the latest climate science.
One of these scientists is Bob Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University and a coauthor of the congressionally mandated Fourth National Climate Assessment, which describes the grim and growing risks the nation faces as the globe warms. He’s been asked to answer questions about the report, which was released on Black Friday in November 2018.
“Climate change is real, it’s happening now, and humans are responsible for it,” Kopp said in an interview, outlining critical points that he plans to make to federal lawmakers.
Kopp, however, will underscore to the both Republicans and Democrats on the House science committee that the report — which concluded that climate change will present “growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth” — illustrates scientifically-founded risks to future society.
“It’s data-driven and transparent,” said Kopp, noting that some 2,000 pages were thoroughly reviewed by outside experts, the National Academy of Sciences, and U.S. government agencies.
“This isn’t a future issue — it’s affecting every American and almost every sector of the economy today,” added Kopp.
His forthcoming testimony, along with the testimonies provided by widely respected researchers like atmospheric scientist Jennifer Francis, is a welcome change for those who want to get U.S. lawmakers moving on climate policy that reduces the nation’s robust carbon emissions. In 2018, U.S. carbon emissions went up.
“This isn’t a future issue — it’s affecting every American and almost every sector of the economy today.”
“For a number of years the science committee was seen as something that was truly destructive to the scientific enterprise and how science is done,” Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview.
Over the past couple of years, the science committee has been mired in arguing about the “mere existence” of climate change, noted Halpern, rather than seeking solutions to establishing an energy system that’s not reliant on burning fossil fuels.
Climate scientists globally have settled the debate about what’s driving the global disruption in climate (“The referee has spoken,” as the BBC put it). Deadly wildfires, historic droughts, and vanishing ice caps are well-predicted consequences of amassing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Although looming uncertainties about how issues like how quickly the Antarctic ice shelves will weaken and collapse remain deeply investigated and open scientific questions.
With an atmosphere loaded with the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide in some 15 million years, the planet is locked in for continued warming through this century and beyond. But how to limit the adverse consequences of climate change is the salient question for lawmakers.
“More carbon dioxide makes climate change more severe,” said Kopp, emphasizing a point climate scientists now repeatedly make, but may have been lost by, misinterpreted, or ignored by the some of the nation’s powerful federal lawmakers.
The President doesn’t get it. Solar & wind represent the fastest growing job sectors. Costs of renewable electricity are declining rapidly. There is a Global Sustainability Revolution happening & he’s boasting about more dirty & outdated oil and natural gas projects? #SOTU
— Al Gore (@algore) February 6, 2019
Getting Congress to fully accept such climate science is a critical step to forming federal climate legislation — which today is in its infant to non-existent stages.
“We need a vision. We need them to set an agenda — to ask bold questions,” said Halpern. “The committee really needs to ask itself how it makes itself relevant again.”
The House science committee isn’t the only body of lawmakers bringing climate science to the forefront of lawmaking conversation. Today, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing called “Climate Change: Impacts and the Need to Act.”
For now, the science committee’s first step is to address a still lingering question for many U.S. lawmakers: why climate science matters.