Senate Committee Discusses Value of Addressing Climate Change

Last month, President Obama released details of his plan to reduce carbon pollution, echoing 98 percent of scientists who say there’s overwhelming evidence that climate change is real, and it’s being influenced by human activities. But at a Senate committee hearing today, the debate shifted from whether climate change is real to whether it’s worth addressing.

Despite objections from the committee’s Republican members, Senator Barbara Boxer didn’t call anyone from President Obama’s administration to testify about his climate change plan. Instead, scientists, economists and insurance experts talked about the effect climate change is already having on the country. One of the sticking points was how much climate change will cost, and whether it justifies the expense of addressing the problem.

Heidi Cullen is the chief climatologist for non-profit Climate Central. She said it’s true that the atmospheric temperature rise has slowed in the past 15 years, but that doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t real.

“So explaining the fact that the atmospheric temperature rise has slowed?” she said. “It’s because the warming has gone into other components of our climate system, most notably the deep ocean. So the warming has by no means stopped, it’s merely penetrating into other aspects of our climate system.”

Senators also heard from Frank Nutter of the Reinsurance Association of America. Nutter told the committee that climate change is something his industry views as real, and it has an effect on their bottom line.

“Can you think of any incentive that anybody has in your industry to fake or gimmick this data?” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked.

“Well absolutely not,” Nutter answered. “Our industry is a risk assessment, risk-pricing industry. Our financial success is dependent on getting it right and we are science-based. We are really dependent on the scientific assessment that comes from people looking at this on a truly non-partisan basis.”

Republicans suggested two witnesses for the hearing’s first panel: Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and Robert Murphy of the Institute for Energy Research. Furchtgott-Roth told the panel that any steps the United States takes to curb climate change will be ineffective on a global scale.

Later in the day, the topics turned to oceans and extreme weather.

Roger Pielke is an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado. He told the committee that blaming extreme weather events—like hurricanes and tornadoes—on climate change is flawed.

“I think it’s important to separate out looking for a signal of climate change—and I would agree with many of the witnesses today that said it’s unequivocal that there’s human-caused climate change—from trying to find that signal in extreme events,” he said.

Pielke agrees with scientists that there’s a documented connection between rising greenhouse gas levels and weather like heat waves and heavy downpours, but others argued looking at extreme weather regionally—not nationwide—shows greater climate change influence.

NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt was in Louisville last year, and discussed the role climate change plays in these weather events.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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