Someone suggested I look at the various testimonies to the US Senate Committee on Environment and Pubic Works held last week. The hearing was to “Review of the President’s Climate Action Plan.”
It occurred to me that this is a lot of ground to cover in a blog article and I mulled over how best to do it. (I couldn't find anything outlining the purpose of the hearing other than the title. I expect it's there somewhere but we'll just run with that for now.) I trust this article will not be too rambling.
The Senate Committee website for the Hearing's panel testimony didn't have a copy of the action plan, so I downloaded it. The action plan is 21 pages long. The actions are grouped under three main parts:
- Cut carbon pollution in America
- Prepare the United States for the impact of climate change
- Lead international efforts to address global climate change.
I read on, firstly to see how the President proposed to cut carbon pollution in America. He wrote about deployment of clean energy, modernising the transportation sector, cutting energy waste in homes, businesses and factories, reducing other greenhouse gas emissions and leading at the Federal level.
In regard to preparing for impacts, the action plan addressed issues of infrastructure, protection of the economy and natural resources, and using sound science.
As for international efforts, the plan proposed to work with other economies (countries) through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, essentially to do what is planned for the USA, including: combatting short lived climate pollutants, tackling deforestation, increasing clean energy, cutting energy waste, phasing out subsides that encourage dirty energy. It also covered the issue of financing. One novel idea was to negotiate global free trade in environmental goods and services.
Who was heard (or who presented)
There were two panels presenting at the hearing. The first panel comprised people from government agencies - the EPA, the Council on Environmental Quality, US General Services Administration and US Fish and Wildlife Service. The second panel was a mixed bag including two climate scientists, a retired state governor who now heads up a consultancy or think tank called the Centre for New Energy Economy, and a couple of people from NGOs: the Natural Resources Defence Council and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
What they said
Panel 1In their written testimonies, the people in the first panel described the actions being taken by their own agencies in implementing the plan. For example, Regina McCarthy presented on behalf of the EPA and most of her written testimony was describing the steps being taken by the EPA to cut carbon pollution (the first plank). She also indicated that the EPA is doing research on climate impacts (the second plank) and working with the State Department to assist in the third plank, international efforts.
In addition some of them provided context. For example, Nancy Sutley described some of the major weather disasters in the USA and the the government's contribution to recovery from events, such as Hurricane Sandy, under the topic of preparing for the impact of climate change. Daniel Ashe described how climate change is impacting natural resources and primary industries (agriculture and fisheries) and steps being taken to identify and respond to vulnerabilities.
Panel 2I don't know the purpose of the second panel. The written testimony was more diverse in subject matter and, although bits here and there were arguably related to the subject to a greater or lesser extent, in the main panel members did not comment on or offer review of the President's action plan. (There was one exception, Daniel Lashof, who did address the subject of the action plan).
As I said earlier, I couldn't find anything that set out the purpose of the review or the purpose of the hearing, other than the title. It may be that Panel 2 members were given points to address and were not asked to review or comment on the action plan. If so, that wasn't clear in any of their written testimonies. For example, the Committee may have asked Panel 2 scientists to update the committee on the science, as a context-setting exercise. Which seems a bit superfluous. If policy makers of a US Senate Committee on Environment don't understand the state of affairs with regard to climate change by now, sufficient to assess the action plan - they what are they doing on the committee?
Bill Ritter Jr presented himself as the 41st Governor of Colorado (in the title of his written testimony). It's not clear why he did that because he was listed on the hearing panel website as Director, Center for the New Economy, Colorado State University. I would have thought it was in that latter capacity that he was attending. Not only that, but he's no longer the Governor of Colorado. Be that as it may, he began his written testimony saying he was to "offer my perspective on how states are leading the U.S. in implementing clean energy". His paper didn't appear to address the President's action plan. However it is a good overview of how clean energy is being introduced, firstly in the international context (compared with other countries). He also touched on legislation at the state level and various policies being implemented by the different governments (eg the $1 billion clean energy fund in New York). His written testimony includes facts and figures of things like solar installations, impact of clean energy on the price of electricity and various other bits and pieces. He also described what he sees as important next steps at the state level.
Andrew Dessler is the Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University. His testimony will probably be of interest to readers, because he is a well known and highly regarded climate scientist. In his testimony he gave an overview of climate change from a scientific perspective. Toward the end he listed likely impacts of climate change. He did not address the action plan as such. I expect he was invited in case the committee members had a question about the science underpinning the policy or to give them contextual information to help them assess the action plan themselves. Andrew gives a very good overview of global warming. He also talks about impacts, which are relevant in the context of the action plan, particularly the second plank - preparing for impacts. However, apart from agreeing it's important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Andrew doesn't comment on the merits or otherwise of the plan itself. Andrew wrote:
In the climate debate, we can argue about what we know or what we don’t know. Arguing about what we don’t know can give the impression that we don’t know much, even though some impacts are virtually certain. The virtually certain impacts include:
- increasing temperatures
- more frequent extreme heat events
- changes in the distribution of rainfall
- rising seas
In my judgment, those impacts and their magnitude are, by themselves, sufficient to compel us to act now to reduce emissions.
- the oceans becoming more acidic
And there are a number of impacts that may occur, but are not certain. We may see changes in drought intensity and distribution, and increases in flood frequency. And we have an expectation that hurricanes will get stronger, although their numbers might decrease. And there’s always the risk of a surprise, like the Antarctic ozone hole, where some high consequence impact that we never anticipated suddenly arises.
We can argue about these less certain impacts, and scientific research in these areas is very active, but they should not distract us from those that are virtually certain.
Governments need to prepare for what is known and what is likely and what is possible. Let's contrast Andrew Dessler's testimony with that of Judith Curry.
Judith Curry is Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Readers here will be interested in Judith Curry's testimony for different reasons. They will want to know if she shows any sign of deviating from the sharper denialist direction she's veered towards recently. I say, no. But you can judge for yourself. Click here for her written testimony.
Judith starts off by signalling her intent with the following - all excerpts are from the first page of her testimony:
I am increasingly concerned that both the climate change problem and its solution have been vastly oversimplified...
...My testimony focuses on the following issues of central relevance to the President’s Climate Change Program:
- Evidence reported by the IPCC AR5 weakens the case for human factors dominating climate change in the 20th and early 21st centuries.
- Climate change in the U.S. and the importance of natural variability on understanding the causes of extreme events
- Sound science to manage climate impacts requires improved understanding of natural climate variability and its impact on extreme weather events
The first is that her whole argument seems to be a giant straw man. The climate action plan is about action. It has only a few paragraphs on the rationale in a section headed The Case for Action on pages 4 and 5. Instead of referring to the rationale for action as set out in the action plan, Judith refers to a speech made by the President:
The premise of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is that there is an overwhelming judgment of science that anthropogenic global warming is already producing devastating impacts, which is summarized by this statement from the President’s Second Inaugural Address:
Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
And then she goes into a long spiel about how the science is not settled. It's all uncertain. Her mostly unstated message is that the government should sit on its hands until every last bit of climate science is known, packaged and gift-wrapped with a pretty bow and passes the scrutiny of science deniers like herself. Fortunately governments don't wait for 100% + certainty on any other matter before them or there would never have been a single policy initiative made by any government ever. Unfortunately they do give science deniers like herself a platform.
Is Judith Curry a "slayer"?
Close to the end of her long written testimony, Judith wrote this ridiculous statement:
Motivated by the precautionary principle to avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change, attempts to modify the climate through reducing CO2 emissions may turn out to be futile. The stagnation in greenhouse warming observed over the past 15+ years demonstrates that CO2 is not a control knob on climate variability on decadal time scales
In other words, Judith is arguing that "it might not happen" even if we keep polluting the air with greenhouse gases. Any outsider would be excused for concluding that Judith Curry is a "sky dragon slayer" who disputes the physics of the greenhouse effect. People who know her by her words realise that it's not physics she disputes, but the rights of future generations to a liveable world. Judith doesn't want to curb emissions for reasons she hasn't made clear. What is clear is that she places no value on the future.
Other Panel 2 Presenters
Daniel Lashoff from the Natural Resources Defence Council was the first Panel 2 member to directly addresss the action plan in his written testimony. His testimony included facts and figures relating to what is being proposed plus he went through some of the details of how the plan could be implemented and some of the difficulties that the administration will face.
Kathleen Hartnett White is from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In her written testimony she commented on the action plan from the perspective of fake sceptics and people who favour small government (when it suits them). For example, she wrote:
The Plan’s goal to reduce emissions of CO2 by 17 percent in 2030 appears arbitrary and without legislative foundation or technical justification. And the Plan seems out of sinc (sic) with significant developments in climate science as well as with NOAA’s, NASA’s , the UK’s Meteorological Office, and even the IPCC’s recent Fifth Assessment Report conclusions that recent extreme weather is neither historically unprecedented nor a result of man-made emissions of CO2.
Goodness knows why she was invited. She's a denier plain and simple.
Anyway, that's about it from me.
(I see that Judith Curry is upset that Michael Mann took a shot at her. Tough - Judith. If you insist on playing the role of denier then expect to be treated as one.)
Update - more reading
- Dana Nuccitelli at the Guardian
- Eli Rabett here and here
- Climate Crocks with Peter Sinclair
- And then there's Physics here and here
- Bart Verheggen at Our Changing Climate
In the light of an earlier HotWhopper article, I particularly liked this insightful comment from Joshua at Rabett Run:
I think that you're missing a key point. The Professor Curry who wrote that paper is not an activist - in fact she thinks that scientists being activists is undermines science. The Professor Curry who testified before Congress is an activist, who appeared at the behest of Republican politicians so as to boost the viability of the policies they support. And don't forget that the Professor Curry who blogs strongly opposes any appeal to authority, whereas the Professor Curry who is making highly public statements about climate change feels that it is important for Professor Curry to lend her qualifications and professional recognition to the cause of climate "skepticism."
I hope that clears things up a bit.