Senate Turns Focus to Planning for Extreme Global-Warming Events

Christy warned that "consensus reports by 'thousands' of scientists" rarely represents the broad range of scientific opinion on the issue, and said policy based on observations of year-to-year variations rather than climate models will be the most effective.

"Atmospheric CO2 is food for plants, which means it is food for people and animals. More CO2 generally means more food for all," Christy said. "Today, affordable carbon-based energy is a key component for lifting people out of crippling poverty. Rising CO2 emissions are, therefore, one indication of poverty-reduction, which gives hope for those now living in a marginal existence without basic needs brought by electrification, transportation and industry."

When Boxer accused Christy of standing with only 2 or 3 percent of scientists in doubting global warming, he noted that the survey she quoted only included 77 people.

Christopher B. Field, director of the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, testified that "we have reached the stage where the question of whether Earth is warming is not in doubt."

"For several of these categories of disasters, the strength of any linkage to climate change, if there is one, is not known," Field said of the 14 billion-dollar disasters in 2011, which surpassed the previous record of nine such events in a year. "For other categories of climate and weather extremes, the pattern is increasingly clear: Climate change is shifting the risk of hitting an extreme."

Boxer actually latched onto the testimony of a witness called by the Republicans as a "breakthrough moment."

Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist of the American Council for Capital Formation, testified that the current climate models produce conflicting results, making it difficult for policymakers and businesses to actually undertake long-range risk planning. Since businesses plan investments over a 3- to 15-year period, Thorning said, the only adaptation policy that makes sense is one of "no regrets" -- or implementing those policies that would be undertaken anyway in the normal course of business.

"U.S. companies have already begun to adopt 'no regrets' strategies to adapt to climate change," Thorning testified. "For example, some utilities are 'hardening' their infrastructure to reduce damage from future weather events and agriculture and the insurance industry are also developing technologies and policies to adapt to climate change."

Boxer said she was going to take that private-sector "leadership" and extend it to Congress.

"This 'no regrets' strategy should be embraced by everybody," she said.

Inhofe noted that the private-sector preparedness model recognizes that there's a "big difference between what could happen and will happen."

Boxer asked the Alabama Republican to sit down to talk common ground on climate change after Sessions cited a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed in which 16 scientists wrote that there's no need to panic about global warming.

"I'm not panicked about global warming," Boxer protested. "I just feel that Congress is the only place that just shrugs its shoulders."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) thanked Boxer for "daring to walk into this bonfire of reality" by holding the hearing.

"Our friends on the other side happen to be very likable people, but they're wrong," he said.

"I agree with half your statement," Inhofe quipped in response.