President Obama changed the tune in Washington when he ordered that all policymaking be based on sound science. But the shift from opinion- to fact-based decisionmaking still hasn’t transferred to Congress.
The problem is evident each time the House and Senate environment committees hold hearings on climate change.
In the interest of balance, the minority-party committee members have the power to invite witnesses to testify. And Republicans such as Sen. James Inhofe and Reps. Joe Barton and John Shimkus (see video) have ensured that climate change deniers without credentials in climate science testify alongside respected scientists.
The result is conflicting testimony that keeps the committee chairmen running interference as they try to clarify fact from fiction and leaves less-informed members of Congress bluntly asking: Who's lying?
Perhaps they should ask John Holdren, who was confirmed last week as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. He's the president's chief science advisor, America's "scientist laureate." At a conference a few months ago, the views of climate change deniers are:
“Members of the public who are tempted to be swayed by this vocal fringe should ask themselves how it could be, if human-caused climate change is just a hoax, that the leaderships of the national academies of sciences of every country in the world that has one are repeatedly on record saying that global climate change is real, dangerous, caused mainly by humans, and reason for early and concerted action to reduce those causes; that this is also the overwhelming consensus view among the faculty members of the earth sciences departments at every major university in the world.”
“The fact is that anybody who could believe that the cream of the part of the world scientific community that has actually studied this phenomenon could be co-opted by hoaxers or suffering from mass hysteria is just not thinking clearly."
Still, the strategy of climate action opponents to sow doubt about the science at every opportunity continues unabated in the halls of Congress.
They want lawmakers telling one another, as Shimkus did during the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on Wednesday, that they shouldn’t cap greenhouse gases or take any other actions to limit climate change because: “The science clearly is not settled.”
That hearing was a perfect example of the problem. Barton’s invited witness was a conservative British journalist and former adviser to Margaret Thatcher whose Science and Public Policy Institute is critical of government actions to prevent climate change.
Monckton is not a scientist. Yet, he sat next to two climate science experts and contradicted them, telling the committee matter-of-factly that we are actually in a global cooling period. “There is nothing in the temperature record that should give us any cause of concern today,” he said. “None of the disasters envisioned by this committee will happen. … The Chinese and the Indians are perfectly aware of this.”
Also testifying was Tom Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. Karl cited scientific measurements showing that global temperatures and CO2 levels have increased over the past century – data that is undisputed among scientists.
Asked if Monckton was lying about “global cooling,” Karl responded that he would have to check Monckton’s data but that he had never seen the numbers put together in quite that way.
That’s a true scientist’s reflex – check the data and methodology before reaching a conclusion.