7 Very Wrong Things About Climate Science And Energy In House Science Chair Lamar Smith’s WashPost Op-Ed

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"7 Very Wrong Things About Climate Science And Energy In House Science Chair Lamar Smith’s WashPost Op-Ed"

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the new chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, wrote an op-ed in Monday’s Washington Post that contains several misrepresentations of fact. He argued for increased fossil fuel production, against the scientific consensus that humans cause climate change, and for a “wait-and-see” approach to cutting carbon emissions.

Two years ago, the Washington Post’s Editorial Page Editor wrote that “The GOPs climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion.” Apparently it is a delusion the Post is happy to spread. Below is a fact check of the seven worst parts of Smith’s piece:

Integrity of Climate Science

Smith opened with a general appeal for a clear discussion of the facts: “Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, claims that distort the facts hinder the legitimate evaluation of policy options.”

However, with a look at his record, Rep. Smith did not have such a clear discussion in mind. After he became chair of the science committee, his first move was to schedule a hearing that aimed to take issue with the science of climate change. He has criticized “the idea of human-made global warming.” More dangerously, he has made headlines for authoring legislation that would politicize research conducted by the National Science Foundation. Of course, there is strong, 97%-grade consensus on human-caused climate change in the scientific literature, as a recent study confirmed.

Keystone Claims

With the House set to vote on Wednesday to force the approval of the Keystone tar sands pipeline, Rep. Smith argued that opposition to the Keystone tar sands pipeline hurts the economy and would not decrease carbon emissions. He said the “State Department has found that the pipeline will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment and no significant effect on the climate,” and would create “more than 40,000 U.S. jobs.”

This just isn’t true. The Environmental Protection Agency submitted a public comment on the State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, finding that, among other things, State needs to make revisions on the true impact of the project’s carbon emissions and about how dirty tar sands oil truly is. Additionally, tar sands oil extraction is not inevitable because transporting it by rail is not feasible — the pipeline is really their only option. Smith’s claims about 40,000 jobs are also quite inflated. The project would create just 35 permanent jobs, along with 51 coal plants’ worth of carbon dioxide each year.

U.S. Emissions

Smith went on to argue “that U.S. emissions contribute very little to global concentrations of greenhouse gas.”

In fact, annual U.S. carbon emissions rank just behind China’s, despite having only a quarter of China’s population. The U.S. is by far the world’s biggest contributor to global concentrations of CO2, the main greenhouse gas, since that depends on cumulative emissions.

Despite advances in energy efficiency and renewable energy, the United States remains a significant part of overall global carbon emissions. Domestic coal use is on the rise again in the U.S., and coal exports reached a record high last year, beating the record set in 1981. America is also the world’s number one fossil fuel subsidizer.

Recent Warming

Rep. Smith made the case that “global temperatures have held steady over the past 15 years, despite rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

This is simply not the case. The overall trend line shows continued warming. 2010 was the hottest year on record. Every year of the decades of the 2000′s was warmer than the average temperature in the ’90s.

Superstorm Sandy

The Chair of the House Science Committee called out “unscientific and often hyperbolic claims” about the impacts of a warming climate. He cited experts that ostensibly claimed that Superstorm Sandy had nothing to do with climate change.

However, experts in the field explain that climate change makes hurricanes and Nor’Easters like Superstorm Sandy more powerful and more destructive. The experts that Rep. Smith tried to cite mainly focused on research saying that climate change has not increased the frequency of hurricanes. Climate scientists pointed to the link between climate change and the increased strength and intensity of storms.

It is not just the increased ocean and atmospheric temperatures that can make storms more intense, however. A recent article in Oceanography Journal found that the melting and receding Arctic ice also amplifies storms like Sandy.

Fixing the Problem

Smith said that the EPA “proposed emissions standards that virtually prohibit new coal-fired power plants.” He goes on to say that regulating carbon emissions from power plants will “raise both electricity rates and gas prices — costing jobs and hurting the economy.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is required to regulate carbon because the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. EPA regulations actually help the economy and create jobs. Every $1 invested in the economy yields $10 in benefits.

The U.S. can do much more than it currently is to reduce carbon emissions, and doing so will actually be a boon to the economy. The EPA could help cut carbon emissions 17 percent by the end of the decade by regulating carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

Slowing Down Progress

Smith concludes that we are “pursuing heavy-handed regulations” on climate change and urges everyone to “take a step back from the unfounded claims of impending catastrophe and think critically about the challenge before us.”

There have been thousands of experts thinking critically about the reality of climate change, and their overwhelming conclusion is that emissions need to be reined in. Not eventually, but right now.

A 2012 World Bank climate report concluded: “A 4°C [7°F] world can, and must, be avoided” to avert “devastating” impacts. The IMF chief warned in February: “Unless We Take Action On Climate Change, Future Generations Will Be Roasted, Toasted, Fried And Grilled”

Continuing to kick the can down the road could be dangerous in the extreme. Millions displaced. Drastically warmer weather. Tropical diseases. Extreme drought that leads to wildfire conditions.

Smith may benefit from protecting the biggest carbon emitters — he has accepted more than half a million dollars from the oil and gas industry — but the rest of the country, and the world, cannot afford to wait.

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42 Responses to 7 Very Wrong Things About Climate Science And Energy In House Science Chair Lamar Smith’s WashPost Op-Ed

  1. David Hart says:

    Anyone else see parallels to creationism? It’s NOT climate denial. It IS science denial.

    • Rabid Doomsayer says:

      A denial of reality altogether. The narrative is all that counts.

      • Merrelyn Emery says:

        My TV is showing the new reality in Moore. Biggest ever they say but I guess the ‘Narrative’ can adapt even if the citizens can’t, ME

        • jk says:

          I’m going to stick my neck out here, but it’s my understanding that scientists have not established a link between climate change and increased frequency and/or increased intensity of tornadoes. More frequent and severe drought? Yes. More intense hurricanes? Yes. Loss of glaciers and arctic ice? Yes. More frequent or stronger tornadoes? Given the current understanding, no.

          • Lionel A says:

            Perhaps you could wind your neck in after reading this Tornado Drought Officially Over especially this bit:

            The climate change effect is probably only a 5 to 10% effect in terms of the instability and subsequent rainfall, but it translates into up to a 32% effect in terms of damage.
            (It is highly nonlinear).

          • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

            Of course. Pump all that extra energy into the atmosphere and it will all dissipate naturally, without horrid consequences, because God wouldn’t destroy His Faithful, would He?

  2. BillD says:

    How is it that politicians in high positions think that they can just “make stuff up” about the most serious issue and issues facing the country. High school students would need to have some documentation for reports they write. Why not the same level of support and scrutiny for speeches and reports by high ranking government leaders?

  3. TKPGH says:

    I attended a PennFuture conference last fall where Bob Inglis was a guest speaker. A remark he made connects to this piece. I’m paraphrasing, but he said that, basically, when Congress hears from everyone that is connected with a particular issue, the message the politicians get is “do nothing!”, and that is what they do. Smith’s comments make sense in that context.

  4. Paul Klinkman says:

    Smith was lucky that it wasn’t his district that got flattened by a 2 mile wide (some say only 1 mile wide) 200 mph tornado today. That dubious honor goes to his ranking counterpart on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, another royal Republican climate denier.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Invest in pitch-fork futures.

    • S. D. Jeffries says:

      Let me clear up some confusion about one mile wide vs. two miles wide in the Oklahoma tornado. The width of a tornado’s path is measured in two parts: the width of the actual vortex of the twister and what is called the “debris field,” that is, the distance debris ripped up by the vortex is thrown, depending on the strength of the vortex winds (measured on the Ef scale). The width of the debris field, therefore, is always larger than the width of the actual vortex. A mile-wide vortex with 200 mph winds is a monster storm. In the case of the OKC tornado yesterday, debris will eventually be found up to 90 miles away from the vortex path.

    • jk says:

      Smith’s district has been hammered by drought, the severity of which has been linked to climate change. We can fault him (and Inhofe and all deniers) for failing to recognize that. But since scientists have not shown a link between climate change and tornadoes, I certainly don’t expect Smith or Inhofe to make one.

  5. BBHY says:

    In most rural areas of country and almost all of the flyover states the only thing you will get on the radio is fundamentalist and right wing programming.

    It is important to understand the effect that has on people. Those media sources constantly tell people that they are the only source of the truth, that all other media is lying to them. People hear this everyday, that they cannot trust any other sources of information.

    So, on the rare occasions when people do hear something else, some alternative piece of information, it reinforces what they have been told. They were told that the “liberal media” would be saying something different, and they were told that it would be false information. It sounds false to them because it is different from what they hear everyday, and the conservative propaganda is very consistent in messaging.

    We have a media system that has become dominated by propaganda, not by the government, but by big corporations.

    That is the root cause for people not supporting efforts to address climate change, and for the politicians we have.

  6. Rebecca Waldenberg says:

    Looks like this man has been paid to lie!

  7. bp (not THAT bp) says:

    Great piece, Ryan. Maybe you could submit this as a guest editorial to the Washington Post to rebut Lamar Smith, so more of the people who read his piece will see the facts?

  8. William Leavenworth says:

    Why would you expect a Republican from Texas to have any scientific training? They get all they need from Deuteronomy, They may wear Armani suits, but their minds are still clothed in linen kilts and chucking spears at Philistines.

  9. Sanjiv Sarwate says:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair.

  10. lamar smith is reminiscent of the political cronies referred to in Thomas Frank’s book “the Wrecking Crew”.2008.Lamar is part of the “wreck government crew” he’s doing what he was told to do.He is a despicable politician,and we need to expose him to
    masses of citizens

  11. don ramsey says:

    All we need is a modicum of common sense to confirm global warming. There are now nearly seven billion of us, and each adult human produces 44 BTUs of heat per hour. Add to that the heat and emissions from our machines, and there is NO way we could NOT affect the climate and atmosphere in general.

    • tomhynes says:

      He does not deny manmade global warming and neither do I. He is saying the costs to the United States in reducing our carbon output are not worth the benefits.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        The ‘benefit’ is the averting of civilizational collapse, so it is infinite in value, and you and he are dead wrong.

  12. LJL says:

    Lamar Smith is the perfect Republican to chair the House Science and Technology Committee because like all Republicans he embodies the vices of ignorance, stupidity, hatred and religious credulity. In short, he’s the perfect Republican cow pie.

  13. Zimzone says:

    The Chair of the House Science & Technology committee is a dyed on the wool conservative Texan?
    What could possibly go wrong?

  14. Peter Murtha says:

    I expect a lying SOS like Representative Smith to lie, dissemble, distort and obfuscate — it is his job given the blood money he receives and the bone-headed district he represents.

    What I am wondering about is why no one is outraged that Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt printed this piece? There are a fair number of people out there who still believe (against all evidence) that the Post is a left-leaning newspaper and are likely to accept Smith’s prevarications as the truth (or at least within the bounds of “good faith”). Does anyone have a practical strategy for helping to dissuade Mr. Hiatt and the Post from continuing to do this? (I don’t think threatening to try him for crimes against humanity is likely to do the trick!) Somehow, canceling my subscription (and losing their excellent coverage of the Washington Nationals) does not seem adequate.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Those who believe that the WaPo is, or ever was, ‘Leftwing’ in any meaningful sense, are either having us on or that type who are, allegedly, ‘born every minute’.

  15. Marie says:

    Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.

    As even most elementary-school graduates know, the moon reflects the light of the sun but produces no light of its own.

    But don’t tell that to the people of Waco, who were “visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence.”
    Several people stormed out in fury. One woman yelled “We believe in God!” and left with three children.

  16. R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. says:

    Climate change is the main reason why erudite people no longer trust either science, law or government. It aligns with the punch line about lawyers who advise their client that 2 + 2 can equal whatever a paying client wishes. Whatever “fundamental fact” is desired, is readily available. We now have EPA science and Exxon science, which, by definition, is impossible. And we suffer from hatred as tornado victims are not yet cold before cruelties abound. Religious hatreds creep out by pseudo scientists from one of the least technically educated societies in modern history.

    I have a hand full of engineering degrees, P. E. Licenses, forty years practice, and engineered a score of nukes two score fossil fueled power plants and decades assessing advanced technology. Rep. R. Smith is closer to the facts of life than this author. Modern society can not survive without the combustion of carbon and the fission of uranium. All other energy sources cost too much for basic supply. This will be true for the next century. Any society which screws this up, will fail.

    Deal with reality.

    • facts lean left says:

      Well, given all of your “experience”, you sound doubly stupid to make such a ridiculous claim. Rep. Smith is a liar and a moron, and you are defending him, making you a worse liar and moron, in spite of your pedigrees. I can only conclude that you got your degrees from a matchbook cover.

    • facts lean left says:

      By the way, you try dealing with reality, stupid. Nothing you posted indicates that you have the faintest clue about reality.

    • Peter Murtha says:

      Dear Mr. “R.L. Hails Sr” (or whoever you actually are),

      I have seen your denier talking points on websites hither and yon. There is nothing the matter with taking a nom de plume in commenting on a website. There is, however, something seriously wrong with pretending to be a particular real person — with certain professional qualifications that may lend some support to your opinions — if in fact you are not that person.

      I cannot prove you are not R.L. Hails Sr., but my search of the internet — which suggests that R.L. Hails Sr. is simply a professional commenter — gives me absolutely no reason to believe that you are.

    • kermit says:

      All other energy sources cost too much for basic supply.

      It’s already not true, let alone a century from now. Solar and wind are much cheaper, when the cost of damage to the commons is taken into account. We subsidize oil and coal with tax dollars (in the US, and I’ll wager elsewhere), with the destruction of the environment, with the health of our citizens, with the loss of wildlife, and with the impending destruction of our civilization and possibly the end of our species. If companies were required to pay for the damages they caused, oil and coal would already be far too expensive to afford.

      If you disagree, you won’t mind my dumping garbage in your yard. What was your address, again?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The assertion that renewables will be too expensive for the next century is preposterous. It shows an amazing contempt for science and technology, plainly driven by ideology, not commonsense. Your position is simply risible.

  17. Roger says:

    Ryan has written an excellent rebuttal and it should be submitted to The Post. I have submitted several pieces to The Post on the subject of climate change and only one brief Opinion piece was published. Ryan’s rebuttal is different since it corrects factual errors stated by a congressman who has a major influence on U.S science policy. Since climate change has become such a loaded word, climate science might receive more press if it is framed in language describing abnormal or severe weather events with resulting increase in drought and depleted water resources. If Ryan’ commentary is published by The Post, or mainstream press, it will have to be significantly reduced in length, while retaining the major points of rebuttal.

  18. Vicki says:

    It is not surprising that the GOP put complete idiots on important committees. That is about all they ever do since they really belong to the corporations that want to pollute and ruin the air, water and land.

  19. tomhynes says:

    I don’t believe that there were any misstatements of fact in that article. If there are, write the Washington Post and ask for a correction. Even in an opinion piece, they will fix misstatements of fact.
    There were “misleading” facts. In other words, the facts were true, but you have other facts that paint a different picture.

  20. Mike Roddy says:

    So a denier chairs the Science and Technology committee. What’s next? Bill Maher becomes a priest? Right wing talk show hosts claim to understand climate science? Oh, I forgot, we already had that.

    • tomhynes says:

      Where does he deny that man made global warming exists? Give me an exact quote please.

  21. John Mashey says:

    See FOIA Facts 2 – No Pro Bono – Federal Funds Mis-Used For Wegman Report And Much More, where I was pleased to be able to quote Lamar Smith:

    “Congress has a responsibility to review questionable research paid for by hard-working American taxpayers. … Public funds should be used to benefit the American people.”

    I’m sure he will diligent review the Wegman Report and the role of his colleague Joe Barton(R-TX) in creating that.

  22. Sören says:

    It is amazing to See that “over and over again” denial is so deeply rooted in the US political system – is it “hiding” something else…..
    Maybe it is time to take a look at the short film about “Lester-land” in this article:
    http://sorenandersson.com/is-it-still-the-right-way-our-social-perpetuum-mobile/