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Republican Reps Assail Climate Science, Cite Emails

Rob Boisseau
Number 143 - December 08, 2009  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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When Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) gaveled the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming into order, the intended agenda to discuss the state of climate change research quickly became an impromptu hearing on a series of controversial private emails accessed from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU).

According to the University of East Anglia, unidentified persons illegally accessed computer servers and downloaded data which included personal emails and other materials from climate researchers.  Select emails from earlier in this decade were then provided to popular climate skeptic websites.  The content of those emails has rallied climate skeptics who allege fraud on the part of researchers. 

On December 2, the Ranking Member of the House Science and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Paul Broun (R-GA), sent a letter to John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, asking if the White House plans to investigate possible Freedom of Information Act violations. 

Markey opened the hearing on December 2 saying, “For many members of Congress and the public the concern about global warming may seem like a relatively new development.  In fact scientists including those advising the US government have issued warnings about the rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere throughout the last four decades.”

Markey explained that President Lyndon Johnson noted in a 1965 special message to Congress the danger posed by carbon emissions saying pollutants had, “altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale.”  Similarly, Robert White, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) first Administrator warned that climate change posed a significant threat in 1978.

Markey went on to say that, “This decade has been the hottest in recorded history, with all of the years since 2001 being in the top 10 hottest,” and that “This summer the ocean was the warmest in NOAA’s 130 year record.”

Ranking Member James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) then launched an extended broadside at what he termed the “scientific fascism” expressed by climate scientists in the CRU emails.  Sensenbrenner intoned that “Sound science depends on sound policy.  Sound science policy depends on sound science.  When the science itself is politicized it becomes impossible to make objective political decisions.  Scientific policy depends upon absolute transparency.”

Sensenbrenner continued:
“Less than two weeks ago some 160MB of data containing over a thousand emails including one from today’s witness, Dr. John Holdren, and two thousand other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK were posted on the internet.  While the emails don’t undermine everything we know about climate change, their contents are shocking…. The documents show systematic suppression of dissenting opinion of among scientists in the climate change community, intimidation of journal editors and a journal who would deign to publish articles questioning the so called consensus, manipulation of data and models, possible criminal activity to evade legitimate requests for data and the underlying computer codes filed under freedom of information acts both in the US and in the United Kingdom, and demonstrate that many climate scientists and proponents of climate change legislation have vested interests, a clear conflict of interests.”

Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) continued the Minority salvo saying:
“There is an elephant; a large elephant sitting in the middle of this room… that elephant is the credibility of the entire scientific community which has told us that the science behind manmade global warming is resolved.  Make no mistake about it, when you read in the emails which have been made public recently that that science was politicized, that its proponents were unwilling to release their data, that they were unwilling to have their theories tested, that they were threatened by anyone and everyone that dared challenge them, when you realize that they were that insecure, then you have to understand that their credibility, the entire credibility of their theory is placed on the line.”

Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) associated herself with Shadeggs remarks.

After opening comments, Markey moved to introduce the hearing witnesses, Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator.  In a highly unusual maneuver, Sensenbrenner moved to have the Administration officials sworn in under oath.  Although it is not uncommon for hearing witnesses to swear to tell the truth on contentious matters, Administration officials are rarely asked to do so.  Markey exercised his authority as Chairman and declined the Ranking Member’s request.

Holdren prefaced his comments, explaining that he had intended to summarize current climate science, but “given the emphasis in some of the opening comments on the emails…” he would address the issue.

“The strength of science is that these kinds of controversies get sorted out over time… by the process of peer review and continued critical scrutiny by the knowledgeable community of scientists,” Holden said.  Holdren further explained that, “In this particular case, the data set in question and the way it was interpreted and presented by these particular scientists constitute a very small part of the immense body of data and analysis on which our understanding of climate change rests.”

In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report, Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years that examined the body of climate records from tree rings to oxygen and hydrogen isotopic ratios in ice cores, and resulting the climate models.  Holdren explained that that report, which came out after the CRU email exchanges, essentially validated those techniques and methodologies.

Holdren concluded his statement saying:
“Of course there is more to learn…” but “the current state of knowledge about it, even though incomplete as science always is, and even though controversial in some details as science almost always is, is sufficient to make clear that failure to act promptly to reduce global emissions to the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping substances is overwhelmingly likely to lead to changes in climate too extreme and too damaging to be adequately addressed by any adaptation measures that can be foreseen.”

Lubchenco began her comments by highlighting the contribution of NOAA scientists to three major peer reviewed syntheses of the state of climate change research and impacts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, US Global Change Research Program, and NAS. 

Regarding the state of climate change research, Lubchenco said, “I emphasize that climate change is not a theory, it is a documented set of observations about the world.”

In an indirect response to criticism by climate skeptics who allege climate researchers do not make their data available to the public for review, Lubchenco pointed out that, “the NOAA data used in the IPCC report are… openly available.”

The tempest over the CRU emails continues.  Just today, Science and Technology Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) and 11 Republicans introduced House Resolution 954 that recommends “the establishment of scientific protocols and a robust oversight mechanism governing… observing, monitoring, measuring and verification technologies, data collection methods, and peer review standards…” overseen by members of Congress.

Rob Boisseau
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rboissea@aip.org
301-209-3094