President Obama reiterated his Administration’s commitment to addressing climate change in his Galesburg speech today, calling carbon dioxide “dangerous carbon pollution.” But just how dangerous is it? A recent hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee called “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now” provided some detail, and several witnesses affirmed that what’s “happening now” isn’t exactly clear.
Asked directly — twice — if any of them could stand by President Obama’s statement that global warming has accelerated over the past 10 years, the entire panel of five scientists and climatologists gave the committee nothing but silence.
Dr. Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama, and Dr. Roger Pielke, a professor at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, don’t deny that humans have some impact on the earth’s climate. But they made clear that these effects are consistently overstated in the media and academia.
“There is little or no observational evidence that severe weather of any type has worsened over the last 30, 50, or 100 years, irrespective of whether any such changes could be blamed on human activities, anyway,” Spencer said in testimony.
Pielke concurred: “It is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the U.S. or globally.”
Existing climate models (including those by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) failed to predict the 16-year plateau in global temperatures even while carbon dioxide emissions have increased. Spencer asked if it might be time to question the assumptions built into most climate models, as their inaccuracy precludes their authority to predict future warming and back up global warming policies.
So what does this mean for policy? Climate scientists have made their predictions, but so long as these predictions fail to accurately model climate reality, it is simply bad policy to attempt to control a problem we do not fully understand at the expense of American families and jobs, whether that be through a carbon tax, federal efficiency mandates, or agency regulations. It should be a basic litmus test that efforts to control emissions should achieve real environmental benefits and improve the well-being of real people.
The testimony from Spencer and Pielke remind the scientific community and policymakers that there is still much work to be done in this area before legislation is warranted.
Robert Geringer is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.