Climate

Rep. Lamar Smith Thinks Latest International Climate Warning Is ‘Nothing New’

CREDIT: AP Photo / Denis Paquin

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX).

The chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is bored by climate science, it would seem.

On Sunday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the fifth version of their full assessment of global climate science, saying scientists have “high confidence” that “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” will occur if humanity keeps its carbon emissions on a business-as-usual course. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who heads up the committee in the House of Representatives, promptly responded with a statement that the report “says nothing new.”

“Similar to previous reports, the latest findings appear more political than scientific,” Lamar continued. “It’s time to stop fear mongering and focus on an honest dialogue about real options. “

Lamar’s first act as chairman of the committee, back in January of 2013, was to hold a hearing giving a platform to climate change denialism. Lamar himself has dismissed “the idea of human-made global warming,” and used his platform to go after climate and environmental regulatory efforts.

“The EPA has admitted that electricity regulations will have no discernible impact on the global temperature,” Lamar concluded, pointing to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new rule cutting carbon emissions from the nation’s power pants. “America cannot afford to drive its economy over a cliff with the hopes that the rest of the world will make the same mistake.”

This sort of thing has become de rigueur at this point, so here’s a rundown of all the mistaken assumptions in Lamar’s statement:

  • The findings “appear more political than scientific.” The IPCC is a cautious and consensus-based institution. It’s now warning we’re well on our way to warming the planet beyond 4°C by 2100, risking “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, consequential constraints on common human activities, and limited potential for adaptation in some cases.” And a number of climate scientists argue that IPCC’s projections significantly lowball the risks. There is overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that humans are driving climate change, and the risks run from bad to catastrophic. The report doesn’t have anything new because the science hasn’t changed.
  • EPA’s power plant rule would “drive” the economy “off a cliff.” The regulatory approach may not be as conceptually clean or theoretically efficient as a carbon tax, but EPA is not stupid: it would be politically disastrous to actually drive the economy off a cliff, and the agency consulted with an extremely large number of stakeholders in designing the rule. The final design of the rule — with lots of flexible options for how states can cut emissions, and targets tailored to each state’s circumstances — was meant to mimic market friendliness as much as possible. And both analysis of the rule itself and the history of previous regulations suggests suggest the economy will be fine. Meanwhile, IPCC’s own analysis shows several global scenarios in which worldwide carbon emissions can be aggressively reduced to safe levels with minimal impact on global economic growth.
  • We need an “honest dialogue about real options.” We’ve had that. There is wide-ranging agreement between economists, policymakers, commentators, thinkers, and politicians on all points of the ideological spectrum that something like a carbon tax would be an effective and market friendly way to cut America’s climate emissions. Plenty of real-world and analytical evidence argues that even a drastically high carbon tax, if properly constructed, would have a negligible effect on the national economy, and might even make the distribution of incomes more egalitarian. Prices for renewable energy are already almost even with traditional fossil fuel prices, and demonstration projects are already showing how they can be coordinated into a reliable electrical grid without fossil fuels’ providing baseload. At this point, it’s the refusal to jump on board those options that is political rather than scientifically grounded.
  • EPA’s power plant rule will have “no discernible impact on global temperatures.” It’s certainly true that America can’t go it alone in fighting climate change — even if we cut our emissions to zero, we wouldn’t alter global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels enough to make all the difference. It must be a coordinated worldwide effort. But that’s exactly why EPA’s regulation is crucial. America is the world’s pre-eminent superpower, and no one else is going to significantly cut emissions if America doesn’t show a willingness to do its part. The power plant rule is a pledge of good faith by the U.S. to the rest of the world.