“Facts matter, science matters, data matters. That’s what this hearing is about.”
That’s how Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, began a Monday hearing he called about the reality of human-caused climate change. Cruz — who is also running for president — does not believe that human-caused climate change is real, which he made clear at Monday’s hearing. He did not make it clear that 97 percent of climate scientists disagree with him, but such is life in the U.S. Senate, where 70 percent of Republicans largely side with Cruz.
The thing about Cruz, though, it’s that he’s a master of political debate. He spoke forcefully and eloquently at Monday’s hearing about what he said were falsehoods surrounding the scientific consensus on climate change. He even injected some real data into his harsh rhetoric, which made him sound even smarter.
Much of the information Cruz cited, however, was presented in perplexing ways. He confused completely different geographic locations, took data out of context, and made at least one unintentionally hilarious historical comparison.
So, with his assertion that “science and data matter” in mind, here is a debunking of some unscientific things Cruz said during his climate change hearing.
What Ted Cruz Said: A bunch of scientists got stuck in Antarctic ice last year, so John Kerry was wrong about Arctic ice melt.
“The summer of 2013 has come and gone, and John Kerry was not just a little bit — he was wildly, extraordinarily, entirely wrong. Had the  Antarctic expedition in the picture next to it not believed the global warming alarmists, had they actually looked to the science and the evidence … they wouldn’t have been looked down and been surprised when they got stuck in ice.”
What Science Says: The Antarctic is not the same as the Arctic.
Climate science deniers across the internet love the story of the Antarctic ice scientists.
Last year, on their way to study climate change’s impact on Antarctic, the scientists’ ship became frozen in ice, unable to move. They eventually had to be airlifted from the vessel. For Ted Cruz, this seemed like a perfect way to open his hearing: John Kerry said Arctic ice would be gone in 2013. But here are a bunch of scientists, in 2014, frozen in Antarctic ice.
This is a laughably false comparison. The Arctic and the Antarctic are literally polar opposites, and each is impacted by global warming in fundamentally different ways. From LiveScience: “Strong circumpolar winds may be compacting and thickening the Antarctic ice. But the Arctic ice is much more vulnerable to ocean warming, and summer storms only speedup the thaw.”
Cruz was, however, right about one thing — Kerry was wrong in 2009. Arctic ice is not gone. But Kerry’s statement didn’t represent the mainstream opinion of climate scientists at the time. The mainstream opinion of climate scientists was, and still is, that summers in the Arctic could be ice-free by 2050 if global warming remains at its current level or worsens. That prediction is playing out now — This year’s maximum Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record, and the total extent of Arctic sea ice has gradually and dramatically decreased over the last several decades.
What Ted Cruz Said: CO2 isn’t bad, because we’ve had more CO2 in our atmosphere then we have right now.
“I would note that the history with markedly more CO2 pre-dated the industrial revolution, so it didn’t come from automobiles or the burning of carbon fuels. … I would note those facts are directly contrary to what the global warming alarmists tell us day in and day out, and what the media who echoes those concerns tell us day in and day out.”
What Science Says: The last time CO2 was this high, humans didn’t exist, and the planet was a terrifying place.
According to Ted Cruz, the carbon dioxide humans emit can’t be harming the planet, because the planet had more carbon dioxide in its atmosphere before the industrial revolution.
This is a pretty easy one to debunk. Yes, the earth had more carbon dioxide before the industrial revolution — but that was literally millions of years ago, before humans existed. During that time, “Megatoothed sharks prowled the oceans, the world’s seas were up to 100 feet higher than they are today, and the global average surface temperature was up to 11°F warmer than it is now.” Right now, the amount of carbon in our atmosphere is matched only by that terrifying time in the history of the planet, and before.
What Ted Cruz Said: Arctic and Antarctic ice are both increasing.
“Here are the inconvenient facts about the polar ice caps. The Arctic is not ice free. This year’s minimum sea ice extent was well above the record low observed in 2011. In the Antarctic, a recent study… indicates that the ice is not only not decreasing, but is in fact increasing in mass, directly contrary to what the global warming alarmists had told us would be happening.”
What Science Says: Sea ice in the Arctic and land ice in the Antarctic have been dramatically decreasing for decades.
Let’s just state this for the record: Climate change doesn’t mean that you’ll see higher temperatures and less ice year after year. It means that on average, over many decades, you’ll see higher temperatures and less ice.
Cruz said that minimum sea ice extent in the Arctic “was well above the record low observed in 2011.” First, Cruz just directly admitted the lowest-ever-recorded minimum sea ice extent in the Arctic was just four years ago. Second, Cruz doesn’t mention that Arctic ice as a whole has been decreasing for decades. As you’ll see in the graph to the right, 2013’s Arctic sea ice minimum was much higher than 2011 — but it was still lower than the historical average. .
As for Antarctic ice, Cruz is right when he says sea ice is growing. But Antarctic land ice — glaciers, ice sheets, and ice masses that have accumulated over thousands of years — is decreasing at dramatic rates. And that’s arguably much more important than sea ice, considering Antarctica’s sea ice completely melts every year (one of the many differences from the Arctic, where sea ice is never supposed to melt completely).
What Ted Cruz Said: It doesn’t matter than 97 percent of scientists agree about climate change, because 97 percent of scientists said the sun rotated around the earth in the 1600s.
What Science Says: Scientists did not use the modern scientific method in 1600s.
This is ostensibly why Cruz disagrees with the fact that multiple peer-reviewed studies show 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing that humans cause global warming: because in 1615, scientists thought the sun rotated around the Earth.
Today, scientists use the scientific method. This is really great, because the scientific method requires people to back up their evidence using empirical data — they can’t apply their own personal biases to it. To have success using the scientific method, a person with a completely different worldview will be able to replicate what you have found. The scientific method means looking outside yourself to find empirical truth.
In 1615, by contrast, scientists didn’t use the scientific method. Scientists were philosophers and ideologues, smart white men who sat in armchairs thinking about what made sense to them. After they thought about it for awhile, they’d say things, and then people would believe them or they wouldn’t.
So in other words, Ted Cruz is essentially saying that the scientific method is no more reliable than a bunch of white dudes sitting in armchairs yelling about how they believe the world works.
What Ted Cruz Said: Satellite data shows no warming for the last 18 years.
“According to the satellite data, there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years. Those are the data. The global warming alarmists don’t like these data, they are inconvenient to their narrative. But facts and evidence matters.”
What Science Says: Satellite data, ground-based weather station data, and sea-based buoy data all show a steady warming trend over the long term.
Ted Cruz loves satellite data. He talks about it all the time.
But like most of Cruz’s statements regarding climate science, his focus on this particular type of data in this particular small time-frame contains an element of truth and ignores larger context. And climate change is all about larger context.
As a reminder: Climate change doesn’t mean that you’ll see higher temperatures every year. It means that on average, over many decades, you’ll see higher temperatures.
When Cruz says there’s been “no warming” in 18 years, that’s because 1998 was an abnormally warm year. But if you start, say, in 1950, the long-term, gradual trend in temperatures has gone distinctly upward. And despite 1998 being a very warm year (because of an El Nino), 13 of the 15 warmest years ever recorded all happened since the year 2000. 2015 is set to be the hottest year on record. And according the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.”
It’s also worth noting that the data Cruz relies on comes from a scientist who has publicly decried Cruz for using his data to make claims that global warming isn’t real. For that scientist, the way people interpret his data matters — it’s unclear, however, if it matters to Cruz.