WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology charged Thursday that reports from the United Nations and the White House on the threat of global climate change “appear to be designed to spread fear and alarm” in an effort to provide the Obama administration with “an excuse to control more of the lives of the American people.”
Speaking at a hearing designed to examine the process utilized by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in developing its assessment of climate change, a report slated for release in October, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) asserted that the group’s goal “is an international climate treaty that redistributes wealth among nations.”
“Serious concerns have been raised about the IPCC, including lack of transparency in author and study selection, and inconsistent approaches to data quality, peer review, publication cut-off dates and the cherry-picking of results,” Smith said.
The chairman also derided the National Climate Assessment, a White House report assembled by 300 noted scientists that found the nation already is experiencing the effects of global climate change and warned that the situation is likely to worsen.
Smith said the administration is using that report to promulgate new greenhouse gas regulations on the nation’s power industry – expected to be issued by the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday – that will “stifle economic growth and lead to hundreds of thousands of fewer jobs each year.”
“The administration’s regulatory agenda will hit workers and families hard but have no discernable impact on global temperature,” Smith said.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, countered that the real objective of this hearing wasn’t to study the IPCC’s methodology but “to try to undercut the IPCC and to cast doubt on the validity of climate change research.”
“The reality is that the IPCC assessment is unprecedented in its scope and inclusiveness,” Johnson said. “The United States, along with 194 other nations, has arrived at a rigorous and open process that yields the most comprehensive and objective assessments of the scientific literature relevant to understanding climate change and its associated risks. We need only look at the results of the previous assessments to realize how much the IPCC has contributed to our understanding of climate change.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produces reports under the auspices of the United Nations but does not conduct its own original research or monitor climate or related phenomena. Rather, the IPCC bases its assessment on the published literature.
In 2007, the Nobel Peace Prize was shared by between the IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore, a climate change activist.
In its most recent assessment, its fourth released in 2007, which involved people from more than 130 countries, including about 2,500 scientific expert reviewers, the IPCC concluded, among other things, that global warming “is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level.”
What’s more, the report concluded that most of the global average warming over the past 50 years is “very likely (greater than 90 percent probability, based on expert judgment) due to human activities.”
Johnson noted that the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on IPCC methodology in 2011 and the same criticisms were raised.
“Ultimately, however, those claims were shown to be unfounded,” she said. “Yet here we are again.”
Smith said Congress should “focus on good science, rather than politically correct science. The facts should determine which climate policy options the U.S. and world consider.”
Academics who testified on Thursday maintained that politics often influence the IPCC’s findings and that those who deviate from views sympathetic to claims of climate change can find themselves ostracized.
“Academics who research climate change out of curiosity but find less than alarming things are ignored, unless they rise to prominence in which case they are harassed and smeared,” said Dr. Richard S.J. Tol, professor of economics at the University of Sussex in England.
Tol, who refused to endorse the upcoming IPCC report because he found it too alarmist, said researchers with avowed empathy for claims of global warming are often selected to serve on IPCC panels over better qualified candidates “whose views do not match those of their government.”
Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, who is one of those working on the upcoming report, credited the IPCC with offering “a critical function in providing governments regular assessments of the consensus view in the scientific community on the state of the science of climate change.”
But he also noted that the section of the report titled “summary for policymakers” effectively requires the approval of governments participating in the study, a factor that can distort scientific findings.
“Admittedly, the SPM approval process is imperfect,” Oppenheimer said, adding that “there have been occasions where government interventions, by causing omissions, have diluted IPCC findings.”
Dr. Daniel Botkin, professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, a global warming researcher, expressed concern that both the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment “present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve.”
“The reports are ‘scientific-sounding’ rather than based on clearly settled facts or admitting their lack,” Botkin said. “Established facts about the global environment exist less often in science than laymen usually think.”
Botkin found that the reports “overestimate the danger from human-induced climate change and do not contribute to our ability to solve major environmental problems.”
“I am afraid that an agenda permeates the reports, an implication that humans and our activity are necessarily bad and ought to be curtailed.”
Botkin acknowledged that earth has experienced “a warming trend driven by a variety of influences.”
“However, it is my view that this is not unusual and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are not apocalyptic nor irreversible.”
The current rate of change, Botkin said, is not unprecedented and “simply indicates the inherent complexity of our global biosphere. Change is normal, life on Earth is inherently risky. It always has been.”