The Grudge Match: Republicans vs. Science

In this handout photo, taken in 2011, provided by Jonathan Gero, scientists witness and measured carbon dioxide trapping heat in the sky above, confirming human-caused global warming, using the Atmospheric Emitted Radience Interferometer seen here, located in Barrow, Alaska.  Scientists witnessed carbon dioxide trapping heat in the atmosphere above the United States, chronicling human-made climate change in action live in the wild.  A new study in the journal Nature demonstrates in real-time field measurements what scientists already knew from basic physics, lab tests, numerous simulations, temperature records and dozens of other climactic indicators.  It confirms the science of climate change and the amount of heat-trapping previously blamed on carbon dioxide.  (AP Photo/Jonathan Gero, University of Wisconsin)

There are so many ways to go about this. We might, for instance, pause to consider the pathetic canard about how the competing political parties in these United States are the same. Or perhaps we could take a moment to think about why American progress lurches forward in quick bursts after seeming to stall for extended periods. And it is not exactly impossible that we might also eventually encounter an opportunity to simply look away and give our attention to something else.

First up, science:

Scientists training their instruments on the skies have caught the world’s major greenhouse gas right in the act of warming the planet, researchers reported Wednesday, providing the first direct evidence that human activity is dangerously altering the environment.

The instruments captured more than a decade of rising surface temperatures, changes that were directly triggered by the atmosphere’s increasing burden of carbon dioxide, a team of scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, Berkeley, reported.

That gas, whose main source is emissions from burning fossil fuels, has long been the principal culprit in global-warming investigations by the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists. Its rising levels in the atmosphere have been the basis for increasingly strong warnings about global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC.

“We have known for decades that there must be an effect, but getting a direct measurement and isolating the carbon dioxide component are a technological coup,” Christopher Field, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University who has led two major IPCC reports, said in an email.

The UC Berkeley scientists’ study, he said, provides concrete evidence for the first time of carbon dioxide’s effect on global warming.


Scientists witnessed and measured carbon dioxide trapping heat at the Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer in Barrow, Alaska. (Jonathan Gero / AP)And now, ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Party.

The story so far: Alec MacGillis of Slate attempts to explain one complaint against the Obama administration, that it is “autocratic”, which MacGillis frames as having “the ring of truth” in matters pertaining to climate and environment. More accurately, we might say the complaint has a certain colbertesque truthiness about it; the president has done most of his work on climate and environment through executive orders and regulations under his purview. The general thesis would be that there is, in fact, a reason why President Obama is approaching these issues this way:

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX06): “I can take you over to the National Archives and show you the signed Declaration of Independence. I can show you lots of documents that have signatures on them … You and I can agree that I’m not going to go out and rob a bank. You can agree that you’re not going to rob a bank. We can both hold a press conference: ‘We’ve agreed that we’re not going to rob a bank.”

Yes, really.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA01): “I know the president loves talking about global warming—and they’re canceling flights all around the country due to snow blizzards.”

Yes. Really.

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH06): “How many coal mines are there in Pittsburgh?”

Yes … really.

Rep. David McKinley (R-WV01): “I keep seeing the EPA putting in another regulation on top of another regulation. What it’s led, by these overregulation in rural America, it’s led to people, their well-being, their mental health, is all being affected by it. I think we’re having some depression in areas around the county because of the threats of regulation and what it’s doing to jobs … I really believe it’s directly attributed to the regulatory body with it.”

I’m sorry, but, yes, really.

Cycle back up to the testament of science, because we get a bonus shot from McKinley:

• “You continue to issue more regulations even though the models say it doesn’t work with it. You have a model that says how [carbon dioxide] impacts the temperatures around the globe. We know from the standards that that doesn’t work.”

Did you hear that, science? You’re wrong, because Rep. David McKinley, Republican from the First Congressional District of West Virginia, says so.

MacGillis further notes:

The unfortunate thing about this spectacle was that it obscured some serious questions from a few Republicans—about challenges facing the nuclear industry or about the feasibility of the carbon dioxide capture-and-storage technology that the administration is placing great faith in. In a functioning Congress, a hearing between the energy committee and the EPA administrator would consist mostly of such substantive back and forth—a chance for legislators to engage directly with the executive branch, to challenge its assumptions, and to draw its attention to the reality of how policies are playing out in their districts.

Additionally, opposing members from Kentucky’s delegation found themselves disputing basic math. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY01) denounced President Obama for making international commitments on climate after the “cap-and-trade system was rejected by the Congress”. But the Bluegrass State’s lone congressional Democrat, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY03) challenged the math. The cap-and-trade bill, he reminded, “received a majority of votes in both the House and Senate and it was only killed because of Republicans in the Senate who filibustered that bill”.

Then he zeroed in on the heart of the matter: “Is it fair to say that if [cap and trade] had been enacted into law and not been stopped by Senate Republicans that we would not be involved with [the new carbon emissions rules] right now?”

“In some ways, that might be the case,” McCarthy replied. “It might have impacted the choice considerably.”

No might about it. If Congress had acted to address climate change, Obama would have signed the law and implemented it. Instead, Congress is still talking about planes canceled by “snow blizzards.”

We should take a note to throw our Republican neighbors a bone in all of this. After all, many are picking on Mr. Scalise’s seemingly unfortunate term, “snow blizzards”, as if it signifies something ridculous about Republican conduct. This is not fair. To the one, that sort of signal is merely piling on, as Republican conduct is and has been for a while, now, observably ridiculous. To the other, “Tuna Blizzard” is the name of my next band.

Just sayin’.

But, you know. Yes. Really.


Image note: Top―Scientists witnessed and measured carbon dioxide trapping heat at the Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer in Barrow, Alaska. (Jonathan Gero/AP) Right―Detail of Tom the Dancing Bug, by Ruben Bolling, 26 February 2015, via Daily Kos Comics.

Perlman, David. “Instruments catch greenhouse gas in the act of warming the planet”. The Seattle Times. 25 February 2015.

MacGillis, Alec. “Why Obama Is So Autocratic About Environmental Policy”. Slate. 25 February 2015.

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