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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The Latest Embarrassing GOP Attacks on Climate Change Science

By Phil Plait

As someone who has been debunking nonsense for a long time—almost 20 years!—I’ve learned a bit about the kinds of people who promote utter baloney despite all evidence against them. They are either liars and con artists, or they are True Believers, impervious to reality.

In either case, debating them is about as effective as throwing snowballs at the Borg. You’ll never, ever convince them they’re wrong.

However, there is some utility in debunking them, of course. There are lots of people listening who may not be convinced, so showing how the Bunkum Promoters are peddling what comes out of the south end of a north-facing bull might sway the fence-sitters.

In the case of politicians, though, what can you do?

And that brings me to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Lamar Smith, also, shockingly, R-Texas. When it comes to climate change, both of these men spew an unending torrent of 100 percent grade-A fertilizer. If they were tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists making badly lit YouTube videos I’d ignore them. Instead, though, they are in positions of power over climate change policy in their respective houses of Congress. Smith is Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and Cruz runs the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness.

It’s not just ironic. It’s Orwellian. Double plus ungood.

This past week they both went far, far out of their way to remind the global community what an embarrassment our leaders can be. Cruz held a subcommittee hearing on climate change stacked with climate change deniers. Smith, for his part, wrote an op-ed for the San Antonio Express-News (his hometown paper) that is filled to the brim with nonsense.

Debunking everything these two say would take a dozen blog posts. So, let me ‘splain… no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Both men appear to have fixated on the global warming “pause”, and both refuse to accept it simply doesn’t exist; Cruz brought it up in the hearings and Smith mentions it in his op-ed (in fact, it’s the basis of Smith’s recent abuse of power, where he’s been habitually harassing climate scientists). The “pause” is a time from about 1998 to today where deniers claim temperatures have not gone up. This is simply wrong. The “pause” never happened, and global average temperatures continue to climb rapidly. 2014 was the hottest year on record, and 2015 is gearing up to blow past even that record.

As you’d expect, in the Senate hearing the Republican majority empaneled four deniers of various stripes (or at the very least “lukewarmers,” people who know the planet’s warming up but don’t think it’s all that big a deal, or may even be a net positive). The Democratic minority got to call one person, but they empaneled a beauty: Navy Rear Admiral David Titley. I love this choice; he has been a clear voice about the dangers of climate change, even rightly calling it a threat to national security. Also, as a high-ranking military man it’s harder for the GOP to paint him as an “alarmist” (though note that in the hearing he was referred to as “Dr.” Titley, which I think was done on purpose to downplay his military rank).

Admiral Titley was asked by Cruz about the pause, and basically told Cruz he was full of it:

Cruz is very reliant on satellite observations and dismisses or ignores measurements taken on Earth, but satellite data are fraught with complications… and of course the data Cruz ignores (including some satellite data) are that which show him to be dead wrong in all his claims.

You can also read more about this on Mother Jones. If you want more info on the GOP-handpicked panel members, three of them are featured on DeSmogBlog (Judith Curry, William Happer, and John Christy), and the fourth, Mark Steyn, well, get an earful about that guy on Media Matters. Putting him on a panel reveals just how much of a farce this GOP hearing was; Steyn’s not a scientist, has no scientific expertise on climate (by his own admission!), and is being sued by actual climate scientist Michael Mann for defamation due to his appalling attacks on Mann personally.

You can read more about all this in articles in The Hill as well as Politico, and Rabbet Run did a blow-by-blow of the panel hearing.

Shortly before the hearings, Cruz did an interview with NPR where essentially everything he said was wrong. It’s rather incredible, actually, almost like performance art. Peter Gleick, a scientist who studies the impact of climate change, has annotated the interview transcript pointing out the falsehoods Cruz uttered.

I’ll point out again that after grading the GOP presidential candidates, Cruz was found to have less scientific knowledge “than the average kindergartener”.

As for Smith’s OpEd, it has a lot of howlers in it as well. He tries to support his outrageous actions in the House — harassing scientists, trying to hamper the NOAA’s research into warming, sowing doubt about the climate — but he relies on conspiracy theories and evidence spun out of thin air.

What boggles my already-boggled brain even more is this statement in his OpEd:

We should rely on good science, not science fiction, when we evaluate climate change.

The irony of him saying that is beyond staggering. He rejects all evidence contrary to his prior beliefs, he makes ridiculous assertions, he uses cherry-picked data, and he draws unwarranted conclusions every single time he talks about climate change. And yet he has the gall to tell us that we should rely on good science.


Here’s the thing: Both Smith and Cruz are unlikely to be voted out of office any time soon. The only way to defuse their dangerous actions is if the Republicans lose the majority in the House and Senate in the 2016 elections, so that they cannot pick who heads the various committees. That’s possible, though who knows? I suspect we’ll be stuck with these two rubbish peddlers for at least a few more years. Heaven help us if Cruz becomes President with a Republican Congress. They’ll set back climate change policy by a century.

If only we could set temperatures back to what they were then.

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