Tuesday, May 21, 2013

7 Very Wrong Things About Climate Science And Energy In House Science Chair Lamar Smith’s WashPost Op-Ed

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the new chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, wrote an op-ed in Monday’s Washington Post that contains several misrepresentations of fact. He argued for increased fossil fuel production, against the scientific consensus that humans cause climate change, and for a “wait-and-see” approach to cutting carbon emissions.

Two years ago, the Washington Post’s Editorial Page Editor wrote that “The GOPs climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion.” Apparently it is a delusion the Post is happy to spread. Below is a fact check of the seven worst parts of Smith’s piece:

Integrity of Climate Science

Smith opened with a general appeal for a clear discussion of the facts: “Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, claims that distort the facts hinder the legitimate evaluation of policy options.”

However, with a look at his record, Rep. Smith did not have such a clear discussion in mind. After he became chair of the science committee, his first move was to schedule a hearing that aimed to take issue with the science of climate change. He has criticized “the idea of human-made global warming.” More dangerously, he has made headlines for authoring legislation that would politicize research conducted by the National Science Foundation. Of course, there is strong, 97%-grade consensus on human-caused climate change in the scientific literature, as a recent study confirmed.

Keystone Claims

With the House set to vote on Wednesday to force the approval of the Keystone tar sands pipeline, Rep. Smith argued that opposition to the Keystone tar sands pipeline hurts the economy and would not decrease carbon emissions. He said the “State Department has found that the pipeline will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment and no significant effect on the climate,” and would create “more than 40,000 U.S. jobs.”

This just isn’t true. The Environmental Protection Agency submitted a public comment on the State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, finding that, among other things, State needs to make revisions on the true impact of the project’s carbon emissions and about how dirty tar sands oil truly is. Additionally, tar sands oil extraction is not inevitable because transporting it by rail is not feasible — the pipeline is really their only option. Smith’s claims about 40,000 jobs are also quite inflated. The project would create just 35 permanent jobs, along with 51 coal plants’ worth of carbon dioxide each year.

U.S. Emissions

Smith went on to argue “that U.S. emissions contribute very little to global concentrations of greenhouse gas.”

In fact, annual U.S. carbon emissions rank just behind China’s, despite having only a quarter of China’s population. The U.S. is by far the world’s biggest contributor to global concentrations of CO2, the main greenhouse gas, since that depends on cumulative emissions.

Despite advances in energy efficiency and renewable energy, the United States remains a significant part of overall global carbon emissions. Domestic coal use is on the rise again in the U.S., and coal exports reached a record high last year, beating the record set in 1981. America is also the world’s number one fossil fuel subsidizer.

Recent Warming

Rep. Smith made the case that “global temperatures have held steady over the past 15 years, despite rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

This is simply not the case. The overall trend line shows continued warming. 2010 was the hottest year on record. Every year of the decades of the 2000′s was warmer than the average temperature in the ’90s.

Superstorm Sandy

The Chair of the House Science Committee called out “unscientific and often hyperbolic claims” about the impacts of a warming climate. He cited experts that ostensibly claimed that Superstorm Sandy had nothing to do with climate change.

However, experts in the field explain that climate change makes hurricanes and Nor’Easters like Superstorm Sandy more powerful and more destructive. The experts that Rep. Smith tried to cite mainly focused on research saying that climate change has not increased the frequency of hurricanes. Climate scientists pointed to the link between climate change and the increased strength and intensity of storms.

It is not just the increased ocean and atmospheric temperatures that can make storms more intense, however. A recent article in Oceanography Journal found that the melting and receding Arctic ice also amplifies storms like Sandy.

Fixing the Problem

Smith said that the EPA “proposed emissions standards that virtually prohibit new coal-fired power plants.” He goes on to say that regulating carbon emissions from power plants will “raise both electricity rates and gas prices — costing jobs and hurting the economy.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is required to regulate carbon because the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. EPA regulations actually help the economy and create jobs. Every $1 invested in the economy yields $10 in benefits.

The U.S. can do much more than it currently is to reduce carbon emissions, and doing so will actually be a boon to the economy. The EPA could help cut carbon emissions 17 percent by the end of the decade by regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

Slowing Down Progress

Smith concludes that we are “pursuing heavy-handed regulations” on climate change and urges everyone to “take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us.”

There have been thousands of experts thinking critically about the reality of climate change, and their overwhelming conclusion is that emissions need to be reined in. Not eventually, but right now.

A 2012 World Bank climate report concluded: “A 4°C [7°F] world can, and must, be avoided” to avert “devastating” impacts. The IMF chief warned in February: “Unless We Take Action On Climate Change, Future Generations Will Be Roasted, Toasted, Fried And Grilled”

Continuing to kick the can down the road could be dangerous in the extreme. Millions displaced. Drastically warmer weather. Tropical diseases. Extreme drought that leads to wildfire conditions.

Smith may benefit from protecting the biggest carbon emitters — he has accepted more than half a million dollars from the oil and gas industry — but the rest of the country, and the world, cannot afford to wait.

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