Although climate change has become a taboo topic on Capitol Hill in recent years, extreme weather occurring all around the US this summer shows that something is changing around the country. It is having devastating and costly effects. This morning, Congress had its first hearing on climate science in over two years, proving just how low climate change had fallen on the political agenda. The hearing was called, “Update on the Latest Climate Change Science and Local Adaptation Measures.”
The US Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works heard comments from six high-level climate scientists and researchers including Dr. James McCarthy of Harvard University and Secretary John R. Griffin of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Predictably, the hearing was contentious. Although the hearing had been in the works for quite some time, it happened to fall directly in line with some of the worst weather the US has seen in decades. Before the hearing, Senator Barbara Boxer, who gave the Majority opening statement, said she had faced considerable pressure from the public to air the issue of climate change. The topic has been a major point of debate in Congress in recent weeks, with Sen. Inhofe (R-Ok.), the Senate’s biggest climate change skeptic, repeated his view that it is the, “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” In a speech to the Senate last Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) refuted Sen. Inhofe’s remarks, calling his comment, “dead wrong, according to the vast majority of climate scientists” and describing climate change as the “major environmental crisis of our time.” I you crunch the numbers, something is changing faster than it ever has before.
Sen. Inhofe continue to voice his contrarian views at the hearing this morning, saying that “the global warming movement has completely collapsed.” Despite this, the most important comments of the hearing came from Christopher Field, a lead author of the IPCC report and director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institute for Science. His testimony said that the extreme weather we have been experiencing is directly linked to climate change; there is no doubt that climate change causes extremes that are linked to recent disasters. He went on to say that the extremes we have experienced may become a regular occurrence which will threaten livelihoods (he cited farming and ranching in Texas). He said:
“The US experienced 14 billion-dollar disasters in 2011, a record that surpasses the previous maximum of 9…The 2011 disasters included a blizzard, tornadoes, floods, severe weather, a hurricane, a tropical storm, drought and heat waves, and wildfires. In 2012, we have already experienced horrifying wildfires, a powerful windstorm that hit Washington DC, heat waves in much of the country, and a massive drought.”
Though the point of the hearing was to discuss the most recent updates in climate science, the discussion ultimately turned back to the political debate about climate change, which author and environmentalist, Bill McKibben, calls an “ideological, theological and economic” debate. Though this hearing was a major step forward in discussing climate science, it proved that partisan politics is still coming between the scientific facts and action. The Committee acknowledged that there was no prospect of moving climate change legislation through Congress, pointing out the uphill battle the issue faces. As wildfires burn, droughts destroy our crops, and extreme weather floods our coasts, politicians will continue to debate the controversy—not the scientific facts.