Congressman Joe Barton, born in Waco, Texas, is not the sharpest tack in the GOP bulletin board (see Rep. Barton: Climate change is ‘natural,’ humans should just ‘get shade’ “” invites ‘expert’ TVMOB (!) to testify). But he still thinks he outsmarted our Nobel Prize winning energy Secretary yesterday.
[Extended pause for laughter.]
Obviously he didn’t — but I do think that Chu missed an opportunity to answer the standard denier question that Barton was really asking. The Hill‘s Twitter Room (!) reports in Tweets You Need to Read (!!):
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) thinks he stumped Energy Secretary Steven Chu at a hearing today. He tweets:
I seemed to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question – Where does oil come from? Check out the video: http://bit.ly/O4m0p #tcot
The video is from a subcommittee hearing on energy legislation during which Barton quizzed Chu, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, on oil formation. Here’s how it went down:
Barton: You’re our scientist. I have one simple question for you in the last six seconds. How did all the oil and gas get to Alaska and under the Arctic Ocean?
Chu: (laughs) This is a complicated story, but oil and gas is the result of hundreds of millions of years of geology, and in that time also the plates have moved around, and so, um, it’s the combination of where the sources of the oil and gas are-
Barton: But, but wouldn’t it obvious that at one time it was a lot warmer in Alaska and on the North Pole. It wasn’t a big pipeline that we created in Texas and shipped it up there and then put it under ground so that we can now pump it out and ship it back.
Chu: No. There are-there’s continental plates that have been drifting around throughout the geological ages-
Barton: So it just drifted up there?
Chu: That’s certainly what happened. And so it’s a result of things like that.
Certainly plate tectonics is a key reason Alaska has so much oil (see here). But Barton wasn’t really asking where the oil came from.
Barton was just repeating a standard global warming denier talking point that it was a lot warmer in Alaska at one point in the past, which deniers continue to assert somehow proves that current warming is part of a natural cycle, and not human driven.
What Chu should have explained is that the climate changes when it is forced to change. Past warming were driven by natural forcings, including massive releases of greenhouse gases. But now humans are dwarfing the natural cycles and natural forcings by pumping out greenhouse gases at a much higher rate than ever occurred in the past — see Humans boosting CO2 14,000 times faster than nature, overwhelming slow negative feedbacks. The result, as Wonk Room explains:
During the Triassic, the entire planet was indeed a hothouse and entirely deglaciated. The carbon dioxide (CO2) content in the atmosphere was at its highest ever levels, spiking from 1000 parts per million to 3000 ppm. The end of the Triassic period was marked by one of the largest mass-extinction events in Earth’s history.
Habitable conditions for humanity, hundreds of millions of years later, are very different. Carbon dioxide levels, which had been below 300 ppm for the last 650,000 years and was stable at 280 ppm during the rise of human civilization, have skyrocketed since 1800 because of our burning of coal, oil, and natural gas to 388 ppm, a nearly 40 percent rise.
Indeed, many fear that a huge methane release is what happened during the Permian-Triassic extinction event. And we are clearly risking that again here on our current emissions path — see Arctic Research Center: The underwater permafrost is thawing and releasing methane and Tundra Part 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss.
The last time the planet was as warm as during the Triassic, it was largely ice free, which would yield sea level rise of some 80 meters (260 feet).
Ahh, now I see Barton’s plan. Look at his district:
A quck check on Google confirms my suspicion about Trinity Country in the East of his district:
He wants beachfront property for his district!
Maybe he is even buying up land, like Lex Luthor did in the first Superman movie. Hmm. That would mean Barton was an evil genius. Okay, maybe not. Especially since sea levels probably don’t rise fast enough for him to cash in — see Nature sea level rise shocker: Coral fossils suggest “catastrophic increase of more than 5 centimetres per year over a 50-year stretch is possible.” Lead author warns, “This could happen again.”
Okay, maybe he’s just another anti-scientific denier.