WASHINGTON – A high-ranking White House science adviser told a House panel on Wednesday that administration initiatives to combat global climate change are based on the best available data and are intended to “lead international efforts” to meet the challenge.
John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President, told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology that decades of observation, monitoring, and analysis have established that the earth’s climate is changing “at an unusual pace compared to natural changes in climate experienced in the past.” Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions “from human activities,” principally the combustion of fossil fuels but also land-use change, are primarily responsible, he said.
Climate change, Holdren said, is “already causing harm in many parts of the world” and the damage will increase for some time to come. But he added there exists “a large difference between the amount of additional harm projected to occur in the absence of vigorous remedial action versus that expected if such action is taken promptly.”
“The recent measured changes in climate include a multi-decade increase in the year-round, global-average air temperature near earth’s surface but they are not limited to that,” Holdren said. “The changes also include increased temperatures in the ocean, increased moisture in the atmosphere, increased numbers of extremely hot days, changed patterns of rainfall and snowfall and, in some regions, increases in droughts, wildfires and unusually powerful storms.”
As a consequence, Holdren said, glaciers are melting, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass, and sea levels are rising.
These findings, Holdren added, “have been endorsed by every major national academy of sciences in the world.”
Given all that, Holdren said, President Obama “has been committed, from the beginning of his administration, to the rigorous use of the best available scientific and technical information in formulating policy, including, of course, policy to address the threats from climate change.” The Climate Action Plan, he said, contains initiatives to make new energy technologies more economic by reducing barriers to their implementation and seeks to reduce greenhouse gasses emissions through new regulations regarding emissions from both new and existing coal-fired power plants.
CAP also calls for the manufacture of cars that are more fuel efficient and greater conservation efforts.
The panel’s Republican lawmakers were not enthusiastic about the administration’s climate change efforts as outlined by Holdren. The tepid response was emphasized by the title given the hearing: “The Administration’s Climate Plan: Failure by Design.”
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the panel’s chairman, argued that stronger emissions standards for power plants “will increase the cost of electricity and the cost of doing business. It will make it harder for the American people to make ends meet.”
Data released by the Environmental Protection Agency, Smith said, establishes that the emissions regulations “would eliminate less than one percent of global carbon emissions.”
“Analysis shows this would reduce sea level rise by the thickness of a mere three sheets of paper,” he said. “EPA’s mandates will be difficult for states to meet even under ideal circumstances. If energy prices or energy demand escalate, the costs of meeting those mandates will soar and American families will be forced to pay the bill.”
Until the Obama administration offers a detailed strategy, including total cost and the extent of public sacrifice, “we are just asking the American people to waste their money,” Smith said.
“America cannot afford to drive its economy over a cliff with the hopes that the rest of the world will make the same mistake,” he said. “The only economy the EPA’s plan will help is that of our competitors.”
But Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, who also testified, told the committee that the agency’s analysis actually predicts electricity will be reduced by eight percent by 2030 under the plan.
“And that’s a good thing for all of us because you get the improved environment, you get the pollution reductions of other pollutants that come with the carbon that will have an immediate impact on people in their neighborhoods and improve their health,” McCabe said. “And through increased use of energy efficiency they get lower electric bills.”
Holdren acknowledged that the Climate Action Plan represents a modest start, but he added, “If we do not make a start, we will never get there.” He also said two other countries responsible for a large share of the globe’s carbon emissions, India and China, also are taking steps.
“China finds it’s in its own interests to reduce greenhouse gases,” he said.
Holdren also dismissed claims made by those he characterized as “climate-change contrarians” who assert that there has been no global warming since 1998.
“Although the rate of increase in the globally and annually averaged temperature of the atmosphere near the surface has slowed since around 2000 compared to the rate of increase over the preceding three decades, near-surface warming of the atmosphere has indeed continued,” he said. “The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, and the 2010s so far have been warmer than the 2000s.”
Thirteen of the 14 warmest years since decent thermometer records became available – around 1880 — have occurred since 2000, Holdren said. During the recent period in which the rate of increase of the average surface air temperature has slowed, other indicators of a warming planet like the shrinkage of Arctic sea have been proceeding at or above the rates that characterized the preceding decades.