The House Science Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing on 25 April 2013 on our current understanding of climate science as it relates to potential mitigation options. As with past hearings, some members of Congress expressed doubts about the causes of global warming or the need to take action.

Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) put forth the argument that global warming seems to have ceased in recent years. “The number and complexity of factors influencing climate—from land and oceans to the sun and clouds—make precise long-term temperature predictions an extremely difficult challenge. Contrary to the predictions of almost all modeling, over the past 16 years there has been a complete absence of global warming.”

Testimony from Dr. Judith Curry, a professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences from the Georgia Institute of Technology, raised doubts about the certainty of climate models, saying, “If all other things remain equal, it is clear that adding more carbon to the atmosphere will warm the planet. But the problem is that nothing remains equal… There are two situations to avoid. The first is acting on the basis of a highly confident statement about the future that turns out to be wrong, and the second is missing the possibility of an extreme catastrophic outcome.”

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) emphasized “it is also important to recognize that the direction we choose to take on climate change is not resolvable by science alone.”

William Chameides, dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, argued, “The risks posed by human-caused climate change are significant and warrant timely action to minimize these risks. We as individuals and as a society often act in the face of uncertainty. I, for example, cannot predict if, let alone when, I will have a fire in my house, but I pay for fire insurance.”

Representative Stewart later asserted that it would not make sense to pay for fire insurance if it costs more than the value of the house. The subcommittee’s ranking member, Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) responded, “I think I have to submit that it’s easier to replace a house than a planet if we have the kind of damage that could come from climate change,”

“Yes, there are uncertainties, but these uncertainties do not justify inaction. What they do suggest is that our response should be a flexible one that allows for course corrections as new information and knowledge comes available,” said Chameides.


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