by Judith Curry
There was a big hearing today in the Senate on climate change.
The website for the hearing is [here]. I don’t see a charter for the hearing, and the majority and minority statements don’t seem to be posted. There are 10 witnesses in two panels, those testifying and links to the their testimony are provided below. I didn’t listen to the hearing, but I have read all of the individual testimonies, I provide some brief excerpts and comments below.
Update: I just spotted this Minority response entitled Critical Thinking on Climate Change. Lots of fodder here, I might do a separate post on this.
Nothing surprising here:
Climate change was for a long time thought to be an issue for the distant future. But I am here today to testify that it has, in many respects, moved into the the present. The impacts of human‐caused climate change are being observed right here and right now in our own backyards and neighborhoods.
But she does include some dubious and misleading statements, particularly this one:
According to the draft National Climate Assessment, sea level could be as little as 8 inches or as much as 6 feet 7 inches above 1992 levels by the end of the next century.
Frank Nutter is President of the Reinsurance Association of America. He provides an extensive summary of natural disasters in recent decades. Of particular interest, he makes the following policy recommendations:
As Congress considers the impact of climate change, the RAA suggests the following legislative principles or actions to consider:
- Provide tax credits to individuals for specified mitigation and resiliency actions associated with extreme weather and climate change.
- Incent communities to develop and implement mitigation and resiliency initiatives.
- Reform the National Flood Insurance Program to reflect extreme weather and climate risk in its rates.
- Apply Federal standards to state/local building codes and incorporate climate and extreme weather risk into these standards.
- Purchase or relocate properties near coastal or river areas at repeat risk.
- Use nature to mitigate risk before and after extreme events.
- Transfer development rights from coastal and river properties to areas inland (Strengthen the Coastal Barrier Resources Act)
- Fund adequate remote sensing for NOAA and NASA.
- Require the Army Corps of Engineers to assess climate risk for all projects.
- The Federal government should lead by example: GSA should assess its buildings and critical facilities in light of climate and extreme weather information.
- Fund climate and weather research through the National Science Foundation, NOAA and other Federal agencies at priority levels.
- Use disaster assistance as an incentive for local communities for climate and extreme weather sensitive, forward looking recovery.
His main point:
My testimony will affirm that climate solutions are feasible, practical, and economically sound. Americans are stepping forward to develop and deploy these solutions now. Our commitment to deliver clean energy, energy efficiency, and better transportation choices is helping us build stronger local economies and healthier communities. But we cannot implement these solutions at scale without the active engagement and partnership of our federal government, including the United States Congress. And so it is with tremendous hope and determination that I welcome this opportunity to speak with you and invite that partnership.
Her testimony provides a critique of President Obama’s climate policy plans, with a good overview of the political and economic challenges facing any climate policy geared towards emission reductions, including the carbon tax. Her proposed solutions:
To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in a less costly manner, America could assist China and India develop shale gas from hydrofracturing and build natural-gas fired plants to reduce their reliance on coal. Or, America could ship coal to China, because U.S. coal burns cleaner than Chinese coal. The majority of China’s coal (54 percent) is bituminous, which has a carbon content ranging from 45 to 86 percent.12 On the other hand, 47 percent of the U.S.’s coal, a plurality, is subbituminous, which contains a carbon content of only 35 to 45 percent.13
Congress could fund research into geoengineering measures. More needs to be done to study solar radiation management, which potentially diminishes the warmth caused by the sun’s rays. This could be done by injecting fine sulfur particles or other reflective aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect incoming radiation, or spraying clouds with salt water to increase their reflectance.
Another avenue of research is to explore making the surface of the planet more reflective, by brightening structures and painting roofs white, as well as increasing the reflectivity of deserts and oceans.
Murphy’s testimony focused on an economics perspective of the social cost of carbon, including issues surrounding the discount rate and domestic versus global social cost of carbon. His testimony concludes with this rather surprising statement:
The American public and policymakers alike have been led to believe that the social cost of carbon is an objective scientific concept akin to the mass of the moon or the radius of the sun. However, although there are inputs from the physical sciences into the calculation, estimates of the social cost of carbon are heavily dependent on modeling assumptions. In particular, if the White House Working Group had followed OMB guidance on either the choice of discount rate or reporting from a domestic perspective, then the official estimates of the current SCC would probably be close to zero, or possibly even negative—a situation meaning that (within this context) the federal government should be subsidizing coal-fired power plants because their activities confer external benefits on humanity.
No surprises, here are her main points:
It seems as though the weather gods have gone berserk in recent years, as nearly every day the headlines report unusual droughts, floods, prolonged cold and snow, heat waves, or unusual weather events happening somewhere around the globe. Sea level is rising ever faster, and its contribution to damage from coastal storms is already being felt. Nearly three-quarters of the sea ice floating on the Arctic Ocean has disintegrated…in only 30 years. How and why are these changes happening, and what can we expect in decades to come?
As the oceans continue to absorb additional heat trapped by ever-accumulating greenhouse gases, as sea ice continues to disappear, and as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the globe, we can only expect to see more weather-related adverse impacts. The details of those impacts are still emerging from ongoing research, but the overall picture of the future is clear.
She makes several statements about the science that seem to me to be misleading:
Warming Oceans Contributes to Ice Loss in Both Hemispheres: Rising ocean temperatures have also been implicated in thinning ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula and in warming the air in that region. (JC comment: no mention of growing Antarctic sea ice).
Counter to claims by those who choose to ignore peer-reviewed scientific research, the heating of the Earth is not slowing down. Because of surface cooling over much of the Pacific Ocean in recent years owing to natural fluctuations in ocean circulation patterns, global-average air temperatures have not risen as fast as during the previous decade. Instead, the additional heat trapped by greenhouse gases has warmed deeper layers of the ocean. (JC comment: JF has 100% confidence in making this statement, perhaps she needs to read the peer reviewed literature on air temperature trends, uncertainties in estimates of global deep ocean temperature, and develop a better understanding the scientific debate surrounding the ‘pause’.)
Doney’s testimony is on the topic of ocean acidification. Since I have been meaning to do a thread on ocean acidification, I will discuss his testimony in a subsequent post.
Leinen’s testimony concentrated on changes in ecosystems or in systems that affect us directly, highlighting three systems: US North Atlantic fisheries, Florida-Caribbean coral reefs, and South Florida sea level rise and its impact on shoreline communities. The remarkable thing about Leinen’s testimony is that it was completely non-normative: there was no attribution of these changes to humans, and no evident policy agenda.
No surprises here, RP Jr focuses on climate change and extreme weather events. His main point:
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 United States or globally. It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.
No surprises here. This argument is particularly clever:
It should also be noted that the fact that I believe at least some of recent warming is human-caused places me in the 97% of researchers recently claimed to support the global warming consensus (actually, it’s 97% of the published papers, Cook et al., 2013). The 97% statement is therefore rather innocuous, since it probably includes all of the global warming “skeptics” I know of who are actively working in the field. Skeptics generally are skeptical of the view that recent warming is all human-caused, and/or that it is of a sufficient magnitude to warrant immediate action given the cost of energy policies to the poor. They do not claim humans have no impact on climate whatsoever.
His treatment of the ‘pause’ was well done:
The lack of statistically significant warming in the last 15 years is sometimes glossed over with the claim that the global temperature record has a number of examples of no warming (or even cooling) over fifteen year periods. But this claim is disingenuous, because the IPCC presumed radiative forcing of the climate system from increasing CO2 has been at its supposed maximum value only in the last 15 years. In other words, when the climate “stove” has been turned up the most (the last 15 years) is also when you least expect a lack of warming.
It is time for scientists to entertain the possibility that there is something wrong with the assumptions built into their climate models. The fact that all of the models have been peer reviewed does not mean that any of them have been deemed to have any skill for predicting future temperatures. In the parlance of the Daubert standard for rules of scientific evidence, the models have not been successfully field tested for predicting climate change, and so far their error rate should preclude their use for predicting future climate change.
The claim has been made that the extra energy from global warming has mostly bypassed the atmosphere and has been sequestered in the deep ocean, and there is some observational evidence supporting this view. But when we examine the actual, rather weak level of warming (measured in hundredths of a degree C) at depths of many hundreds of meters, it implies relatively low climate sensitivity. Part of the evidence for this result is satellite radiative budget measurements which suggest that more intense El Nino activity since the 1980s caused an apparent decrease in cloudiness, which allowed more sunlight into the climate system, which caused a natural component to recent global warming. Since the global energy imbalance leading to ocean warming since the 1950s is only about 1 part in 1,000 compared to the average rates of solar heating and infrared cooling of the Earth, it should not be surprising that natural climate cycles can cause such small changes in ocean temperature. Even if our ocean temperature measurements of deep warming of hundredths of a degree over the last 50 years are correct, and mostly due to human greenhouse gas emissions, they probably do not support the IPCC’s pessimistic view of future warming.
JC comments: I found this hearing to be more interesting than the previous Senate hearing on climate change held last February (link to Climate Etc post). I found the most interesting testimony to be provided by Frank Nutter and Diana Furchtgott-Roth. It was refreshing to hear testimony from Leinen and Doney on topics other than extreme events and temperature.
This Hearing (along with the February Senate Hearing and also the House hearing where I testified) motivated me to reflect on what contributed to effective testimony by climate scientists, on both sides of the debate:
On the “warm” side, overconfidence or snarky putdowns of scientists on the other side of the debate does not go over well, since this triggers reminders of Climategate and detracts from your credibility. On the more “skeptical” side, aligning yourself with consensus is an effective strategy, which was used both by Roy Spencer and Roger Pielke Jr. in this Hearing.
Clarity in presentation of arguments is a big plus (James McCarthy is exemplary on this IMO), but oversimplification and insufficient references to assessment reports or the primary literature reduces credibility (IMO Jennifer Francis’ testimony suffers from this).
So, do these hearings “matter”? I’m not sure the February hearing did, but House hearing in May does seem to have had an impact on how the Republicans perceive this issue. The significance of the Hearing today IMO is to find common ground among the perspectives Nutter, Goldin and Furchtgott-Roth.