Journal Sentinel, Oct. 9, 2010 4:10 p.m.
Recently, 26 highly respected scientists submitted a document to Congress that responded to the testimony of Christopher Monckton before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is a member of the committee. The report reaffirmed that humans are causing substantial changes to the Earth’s climate.
Why would these scientists take the time to submit a lengthy report in response to a single congressional witness? The answer is that by inviting Monckton to testify, Sensenbrenner – making the invitation on behalf of the minority party on the committee – made a mockery of the time-honored tradition of inviting expert testimony to inform legislative decisions. Monckton is not distinguished by his scientific credentials (he has none), nor by the many peer-reviewed articles he has written on the subject (he has written none). Nevertheless, he was invited to testify to Congress as an “expert.”
Monckton’s testimony was in sharp disagreement with many major scientific organizations and the vast majority (more than 95%) of climate scientists. What does Monckton know that climate scientists don’t? The answer is not much. In fact, the report outlined nine key errors of Monckton’s testimony in stark detail. From start to finish, Monckton’s misunderstanding of even basic scientific principles was evident.
Witnesses should not be invited based on ideology; invitations should be based on the quality of their scientific work. Monckton’s appearance in the halls of Congress is an embarrassment to our Congress and our nation.
Unfortunately, Sensenbrenner and a number of his colleagues have a history of ignoring scientists with relevant backgrounds in favor of easily debunked pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. On Dec. 4, 2009, for example, Sensenbrenner stated that scientists “found a trick to hide the decline in temperature data.”
Later, Sensenbrenner read the text from the supposed “offending” e-mail. The text did not indicate that scientists hid a “decline in temperature data” as Sensenbrenner suggested. In fact, the e-mail was written in 1999, on the heels of the warmest temperatures on record. The author of the e-mail was referring to a well-known problem that had been described more than a year earlier – that certain tree-ring records do not provide reliable information about temperatures in recent decades.
The e-mail was discussing the fact that recent temperatures were rising faster than those tree rings suggested.
There is a larger point that goes to the heart of what it means to have a truly honest discussion of the science. By focusing on, and misrepresenting, a single phrase cherry-picked from one of thousands of stolen e-mails, Sensenbrenner conveniently avoided acknowledging the subsequent body of work by the scientific community over the past decade, including a thorough review of climate research that allow temperatures to be known many centuries back in time.
That review, conducted by a board of the National Academy of Sciences, completely vindicated the work alluded to in the aforementioned 10-year-old e-mail. It establishes that the rise in global temperatures over the past century is unprecedented for at least the past thousand years and likely far longer. Such findings are just one small part of a much larger and compelling body of evidence that humans are causing the climate to change in ways that are dangerous to future generations.
The issue of climate change has become so politicized that no substantial action has been possible. Meanwhile, the Earth is rushing toward a point of no return.
We believe that people on both sides of the political spectrum need to act quickly, and together, in order to take effective action. Conservatives must realize that denial of scientific results that do not conform to ideological or political positions should not be a litmus test for their representatives. They also need to realize that the science behind climate change is well-established among the real scientists. Continued denial of climate science likely will become a political liability in the near future.
Liberals must recognize that many of their conservative counterparts have deep-seated, and in many cases, well-reasoned fears about regulation-based solutions. They also must realize that not all conservatives are anti-science and anti-environment. The discussion we need to have is, “What is the best way to move forward?”
Ray Weymann is from Carnegie Observatory and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. John Abraham is from University of St. Thomas. Barry Bickmore is from Brigham Young University. Michael Mann is from Penn State University. Winslow Briggs is from Carnegie Institute for Science and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.