Carol Browner: ‘Stunning’ Climate Denial In The House Prevents Any Action On Climate In Washington

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"Carol Browner: ‘Stunning’ Climate Denial In The House Prevents Any Action On Climate In Washington"

by Luke Morgan

Former EPA Chief and White House Climate Czar Carol Browner says that climate deniers in the House of Representatives are the biggest impediment to getting a price on carbon.

When asked what the most significant obstacle in passing climate change legislation is during an event in Washington on the Clean Air Act yesterday, former EPA Chief Carol Browner pointed to Republicans in the House and their “stunning” denial of the reality of earth’s changing climate.

“I think unfortunately, right now a majority in our House of Representatives appears to not even think the problem is real,” Browner said. “It’s sort of stunning to me because I’ve never seen the breadth of scientific consensus on an environmental issue like there is on this.”

Speaking directly after Browner was Texas GOP Representative Joe Barton. Barton is the chairman emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and sits on the Environment and the Economy subcommittee.  However, while collecting $1.7 million from Big Oil over the years, he has displayed alarming ignorance on climate reality.

Barton claimed that carbon dioxide is not only irrelevant to the Clean Air Act, but that it’s not dangerous at all because it’s “a necessity for life.” To illustrate his example, he noted that he was exhaling carbon dioxide as he spoke, and actually argued that people should build greenhouses because they create life, so greenhouse gases are good.

“There’s a reason that you build things called greenhouses, and that’s to help things grow,” he said.

Barton also claimed that the atmosphere had, in the past, contained carbon dioxide levels greater than 5,000 parts per million (ppm), implying that we could do so again today.  The current scientific consensus, however, is that 350 ppm is the safe upper limit.

Barton said that he accepted the climate is changing, but he discounted human influence and the rise in extreme weather as “opinions.” Both the anthropogenic causes of climate change and its effects on extreme weather events are extremely well-documented in the scientific community.

Barton’s remarks came during a panel convened by National Journal and the American Lung Association on the legacy and future of the Clean Air Act.  Although he spoke alone, many of the other speakers either pre-empted or responded to his off-base remarks.

Dr. Jerome Paulson of the Children’s National Medical Center pointed out the silliness of Barton’s argument that CO2 is a necessity for life.  Paulson noted, “If we had no sodium, we wouldn’t be alive.  But there does come a point where if people consume too much sodium or if there’s too much sodium in their bodies, then it becomes toxic and people can die.”

The same is true, Paulson said, of CO2 in the atmosphere: it’s necessary, but too much of it is clearly a bad thing.

The event, which can be viewed online, focused mainly on the Clean Air Act and whether it had been successful, and how successful it could be moving forward.  While Barton incorrectly argued that CO2 is not a dangerous pollutant and therefore not subject to the jurisdiction of the Clean Air Act, Browner – who was also the longest-serving EPA Administrator – pointed out that the agency is required by law to regulate anything it considers to be detrimental to environmental health.

Barton also repeated the Republican talking point that the EPA places an undue burden on businesses.  However, Browner pointed to the EPA’s review of the Clean Air Act, which detailed $2 trillion dollars in economic savings through 2022.  Browner has made similar arguments before to Stephen Colbert.

Barton expressed doubt that Congress would be legislating on the Clean Air Act at all in the current Congress.  Browner, however, noted that current law allows the EPA and the executive branch to make significant progress in combatting CO2 without needing Congress’s stamp of approval, and that the Supreme Court has upheld that right.

Luke Morgan is the executive Intern at the Center for American Progress.

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21 Responses to Carol Browner: ‘Stunning’ Climate Denial In The House Prevents Any Action On Climate In Washington

  1. Kim Feil says:

    I personally told Smokey Joe when we had a town hall meeting (and recorded it too) they they were flowing back the gas wells in Arlington by people in OPEN hatch flowback tanks when they should be using urban, ventless, pressurized (more expensive) flowback tanks. Drill right or don’t drill at all!

  2. Laurie james says:

    I don’t think a person can get any more ignorant and ill-informed. Goddess help us all if these morons remain in positions of power.

  3. BillD says:

    How can people at very high levels of government policy have such illogical and even bizarre understanding of basic science. Does Barton really believe that the fact that all living organisms respire CO2 mean that it is irrelevant to climate? Maybe he is pulling our legs. It’s almost as if learning and understanding a little science is a disqualification to be a Republican member of a Congressional committee on science and technology

  4. KenL says:

    ‘Barton claimed that carbon dioxide is not only irrelevant to the Clean Air Act, but that it’s not dangerous at all because it’s “a necessity for life.” ‘

    As Paracelsus taught us 500 or so years ago:

    “The dose makes the poison”

    • Martin Hanson says:

      Drink 10 litres of water quickly, and it will kill you. Breathe pure oxygen under 2 atmospheres pressure over a sustained period, and it will kill you. Copper, an essential micronutrient, is toxic in excess.
      The scientific illiteracy of politicians is staggering.

    • Solar Jim says:

      After oxidizing 375 billion tons of lithosphere (fossil) carbon we have to date dosed the biosphere with 1.4 trillion tons of carbonic acid gas.

      I’m feeling rather exhausted. How’s the dropping atmospheric oxygen level doing?

  5. Vrich says:

    How do guys like Barton always manage to get placed on the committees dealing with issues or agencies they hate the most? Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is also on an environmental committee, and a bigger enemy of the environment is not to be found. Like putting the weasels in charge of the hen house.

    • Solar Jim says:

      That is the universal design for a corrupt oligarchy, often referred to as “petro-state.”
      “Petro” refers to preferred and associated minerals at the base of perverse, militant, contaminating and arbitrary “fuels-of-war” economics.

  6. Charles Riordon says:

    Stunning, but not surprising. This same denial won decades of reprieve and profits for the tobacco industry, and the oil industry is much bigger. We are seeing a reflection of the psychopathic mindset which seems de rigeur in the fossil fuel empire. Everything is secondary to profit and the maintenance of profit, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and even more so the right thereto of future generations.

    This is nothing more than a sickness, but it has somehow ensconced itself in the highest levels of administration and government. Anyone who thinks these individuals will forgo hundreds of billions of dollars of profit without a serious fight is suffering from delusions that human nature is fundamentally good (rather than fundamentally opportunistic). We have seen 30 years of this denial, and it will likely go on for another 30 years, unless laws are changed.

    You can read an excellent take on this issue here: A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0195379446/ref=oh_details_o06_s00_i00

    • ThisOldMan says:

      “… it has somehow ensconced itself in the highest levels of administration and government.”

      There’s no “how” about it: We all know how! Money from fossil fuels pays for their campaigns for the “think” tanks that mobilize religious fundamentalists and other reality adverse segments of society to vote and campaign for them.

      Now go to movetoamend.org and help do something about it!

  7. Coyoty says:

    Greenhouse gases! It’s what plants crave!

  8. M Tucker says:

    This is the New Republican Party. They believe in vast conspiracy theories and not all involve climate science. They are proud to proclaim that Earth is only 6000 years old. They wish to end all EPA regulations. They wish to privatize FEMA. They play games with the US economy. They would prefer to end unemployment benefits. They vote against jobs bills for our veterans. They hold a host of bizarre beliefs about the UN. These freaks should not be put in charge of an outhouse but the American voters have placed them into positions of power in the US government. Our country is suffering because of ignorant voters and the ignoramuses they elect to office. When it comes to taking action on climate change they will spout their inane beliefs and refuse to act.

    • Solar Jim says:

      “Our country is suffering because of ignorant voters and the ignoramuses they elect to office.”

      Sounds like a bad self-reinforcing cascading feedback loop to me. Say, can I borrow a trillion (majority of actual “discretionary” budget) for this year’s militarism? It’s profitable for our insecurity don’t ya know.

  9. Mark Shapiro says:

    Air is necessary for life, but tornadoes are bad.

    Water is necessary for life, but floods are bad, drowning is bad, getting fire hosed is bad.

    Representation in Congress is good, but Representative Joe Barton . . .

  10. Scott says:

    Yes, Joe Barton loves to stick it in the ear of environmentalists with his benign CO2 nonsense, and no, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. I do wish Carol Browner had been a little more belligerent when she was EPA head and Climate Czar and had done more to prevent the current situation.

  11. Timothy Hughbanks says:

    I think the word ignorant in describing most of the GOP is far too charitable, unless it is preceeded by willfully. Joe Barton has heard the facts a thousand times. If he really believes the trash that issues from his mouth, it is because he chooses to remain ignorant.

  12. Joe Barton is neither ignorant or stupid. He does however have not even a smidgen of integrity. Barton has convinced himself of validity of the lies he preaches for the sake of money. A person in power so utterly corrupt is there because of the people who continue to vote him into office.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    It may be a coincidence – or not – but Barton’s figure of 5000 ppm CO2 is also a NIOSH/OSHA/ACGIH limit for workplace exposure, assuming a 40 hour work week.

  14. Joan Savage says:

    And about Barton’s homey analogy to an ordinary greenhouse, maybe someone can remind him that the roof vents are to keep the greenhouse plants from getting too hot.

    The CO2, methane, HFCs, and other GHGs effectively ‘glue the roof vents shut.’

  15. Chris Winter says:

    Barton claimed that carbon dioxide is not only irrelevant to the Clean Air Act, but that it’s not dangerous at all because it’s “a necessity for life.” To illustrate his example, he noted that he was exhaling carbon dioxide as he spoke, and actually argued that people should build greenhouses because they create life, so greenhouse gases are good.

    By that logic, we should also be surrounding ourselves with more of the other natural products of our bodies.

    You first, Congressman Barton.

  16. smokeghost says:

    NASA/ NATO/ Raytheon can use their HAARP to generate a permanent rainstorm/ desert conditions over Washington DC. Then see if they deny ‘man-made’global warming.