You are here

In case you missed it (notes on some recent climate hearings)

Capitol Hill is on a global warming hearing binge. Al Gore made the big splash in terms of media coverage, but several recent testimonies merit your attention. John Christy, professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama, testified on 7 March 2007 before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Christy reviewed his research on temperature trends in Central California since 1910. Alarmists claim that greenhouse warming is reducing snowpack in the Sierra mountains, jeapardizing the State's water supply. Christy and his colleagues examined and digitized more than 1600 pages of temperature records from weather stations in the San Joaquin Valley and the neighboring Sierra foothills and mountains. The researchers found that nighttime temperatures in the 18 Valley stations were warming rapidly, about 6°F in summer and fall, while the daytime temperatures fell about 3°F. "This is consistent with the effects of urbanization and the massive growth in irrigation in the Valley." To their surprise, the researchers found no temperature change in the composite record of the 23 stations in the central Sierra foothils and mountains, where alarmists claim greenhouse warming is having severe impacts. The bottom line: "It suggests that to 'do something' about warming in Central California means removing agricultural and urban development rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions." Christy also had some choice words about the alleged "moral imperative" to curb carbon-based energy use. First, he noted that in 1900, "global energy technology supported 56 billion human-life-years (i.e. 35 yr life expectancy x 1.6 billion people)," whereas today, "energy technology supports 426 billion human-life-years...an eight-fold increase." During that time, Earth's average temperature increased a little over 1°F. Assuming for the sake of argument that all the warming was due to energy use, how many billions of human-life-years would it have been moral to eliminate in order to avert how many tenths of a degree? Christy's reminiscence about his experience as an African missionary is worth quoting:
"As you know, African women collect firewood each day and carry it home for heating and cooking. This source of energy, inefficient and toxic as it is, kills about 1.6 million women and children every year. When an African woman, carrying 50 poounds of firewood on her back, risks her life by jumping out in front of my van in an attempt to force me to give her a lift, I understand the value of energy. You see, what I had in my school van, in terms of the amount of gasoline I could hold in my cupped hands, could move her and her 50 pounds of firewood 2 or 3 miles down the road to her home. I now know what an astounding benefit and blessing energy is ... and to what extent she and her people would go to acquire it. Energy demand will grow becuse it makes life less brutal and less short."
James Connaughton, Chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), testified on 19 March 2007 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Commitee. This hearing was one of a series launched by Chairman Henry Waxman (C-CA), allegedly to root out political interference in government-funded climate science. Connaughton convincingly laid to rest allegations, trumpeted by Waxman, that former CEQ Chief of Staff Phil Cooney had engaged in surreptitious, unscientific "editing" of federal climate reports to hide the supposed perils of global warming from policymakers and the public. I was beginning to think I was destined to be the only person to defend Cooney from these baseless accusations, which the New York Times first ventilated almost two years ago. Two key conclusions emerge from Connaughton's testimony. First, Cooney was one of 50 or so people who made editorial suggestions as part of the normal inter-agency clearance process. Cooney's proposed changes along with those of many other people went to OMB, and ultimately had to be approved by Dr. James Mahoney, Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, before being incorporated in the final documents. Second, all of Cooney's proposed edits were reasonable on the merits and in many instances based on the actual wording of Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, a report prepared by the National Research Council. James Hansen of NASA also testified at the Waxman hearing. Hansen has garnered tons of earned media by protesting the censorship he alleged received at the hands of Bush political operatives. It came out at the hearing that during the past few years, when Bush politicos supposedly muzzled him, Hansen conducted over 1400 interviews with the media. Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama's Earth System Science Center was another witness at the Waxman hearing. Spencer made the sensible observation that some degree of political interference with science is inevitable in the Executive Branch, because each agency is ultimately responsible for what its employees say to the public. Spencer elaborated:
"What if the title [of a press release drafted by a federal scientist about his latest research] reads, 'Global Warming Could Destroy Most of Mankind in the Next Five Years'? Could managers intervene then? At some point, the agency for which the scientist works must bear some responsibility for what the scientist, in his official capacity, says to the public and press. Managers can not simply give blanket approval to whatever the scientist wants to say just to avoid the impression of 'muzzling science.'"
Spencer noted that we often hear about how the greenhouse effect keeps the climate "habitably warm," but not about how weather processes keep the climate "habitably cool." Yet, were it not for the cooling effects of precipitation and other weather phenomena, the greenhouse effect would make the planet too hot to sustain life. Government-funded research is similarly skewed. Most funding goes toward the discovery of climate destabilizing mechanisms rather than climate stabilizing mechanisms. And, Spencer noted, "Because it takes a higher level of complexity in any physical system to produce self-regulation and stabilization, such findings do not naturally flow out of the existing research." This research bias inevitably promotes alarmism and bias in favor of regulatory climate strategies like the Kyoto Protocol. To counteract such biases, Spencer recommended that policymakers fund a competing climate assessment team. This "Red Team" would have as its mission the investigation of climate stabilizing mechanisms. Each team would then have an incentive to critique the assumptions, methodologies, and findings of the other group. Checks and balances in the federal government? What a concept! Sadly, in regard to government-funded climate science, nobody thought of this until now.