Our Climate Reality and Our Congressional Deniers

On Tuesday, in a hearing in the House, representatives wrestled over whether they should accept the volumes of science produced by every major U.S. scientific and research institution that say that climate change is happening and our industrial carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to it. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bobby Rush (D-IL),…

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On Tuesday, in a hearing in the House, representatives wrestled over whether they should accept the volumes of science produced by every major U.S. scientific and research institution that say that climate change is happening and our industrial carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to it.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) made strong cases for science and for limits on carbon dioxide pollution in this hearing. Four expert scientists provided testimony that climate change is hurting our agriculture harvests, food security, and economy; that climate change is increasing risk of wildfires in the western U.S.; that climate change is warming the Great Lakes; and that climate change is causing droughts and floods. Said Waxman this week, “I’ve never been in a Congress where there was such an overwhelming disconnect between science and public policy.”

Despite all this, on Thursday, members of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee passed a bill by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) – with help from Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) — that would block federal Clean Air Act limits on the carbon dioxide pollution of the nation’s biggest polluters. Said Waxman in a House hearing today: “Yesterday’s markup of Upton-Inhofe bill demonstrates that Republicans not only have an anti-environmental agenda but they also have an anti-science agenda.” The bill is scheduled for a vote by the full Energy & Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Upton, on March 15.

After the Upton-Whitfield Dirty Air Act passed through that committee, the House held another hearing today {Friday, March 11} and called EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to the witness stand … again.

Said Jackson at the hearing: 

“The most extreme parts of that bill remain unchanged since I testified about it a month ago.  It still would presume to overrule the scientific community on the scientific finding that carbon pollution endangers Americans’ health and wellbeing.  Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question – you might be remembered more for that than for anything else you do …  The Clean Air Act saves millions of American children and adults from the debilitating and expensive illnesses that occur when smokestacks and tailpipes dump unrestricted amounts of harmful pollution into the air we breathe.  I respectfully ask this Committee to think twice before gutting that landmark law.”

In response, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) attempted to make the case that, despite what the world’s leading research institutions and the Supreme Court say, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. “This table is made of carbon,” he said, plying the same silly, misguided illogic we hear over and over again in the 112th Congress. “If you were wearing a diamond ring, Administrator Jackson, it would be made of carbon.”

Meanwhile, here’s a reality check on climate change from around the planet:

Climate Change & Coffee: Time To Wake Up and Smell the Coffee… er… Carbon Pollution
For a coffee addict like myself, this one is hard to swallow. News reports this week told us that coffee beans, along with our morning jolt, are in jeopardy. Coffee production in Latin America has already taken a big hit over the last few years due to higher temperatures and wetter growing seasons there. The life-giving bean likes it chill and dry – but climate change is not abiding in places that supply coffee. The mildest, smoothest, most celebrated bean varieties such as Arabica are the ones in the biggest trouble, of course. Coffee growers around the world are already in talks and meetings about how to save their businesses. Some of them are moving up their mountains to catch the colder, dryer air. But there’s only so far you can go up a mountain before you’re out of business and the rest of us are falling asleep on the job. This coffee crisis truly provides a double-dip hit to the globe: Economies in Latin America and Northern Africa will suffer, and the rest of the world will suffer in sluggishness and slow productivity.

Common Evergreens Throughout U.S. West Are Dying Out
A new study out of Oregon State University and the University of British Columbia found that lodgepole pines, an evergreen tree common through the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountains, are declining rapidly due to climate change. The study found that in nine years, they will have shrunk by 10 percent. Scientists say that at this rate, the trees could vanish from the Pacific Northwest by the end of the century. The cause: rising temperatures, forest fires caused by rising temperatures and lower precipitation in the region, and the spread of pests and pest-spread diseases due to changing climate.

Humankind – and Human-Induced Climate Change — Is Causing Sixth Mass Extinction of the Earth’s History
The science journal Nature published a study last week that that posits that we’re right now in the middle of the sixth mass wipeout of species in the planet’s 540 million years — and we’re the cause. The “Big Five” mass extinctions – in which 75 percent of the planet’s species died off for good – happened by natural causes. But our development, over-fishing, over-hunting, and toxic and harmful pollution has already caused widespread habitat loss and is causing climate change, which is bringing out pest-carried diseases and even more causes of death and extinction for wildlife. Scientists say our high losses of mammal species especially indicate a grave pattern and problem for the planet, and for the ecosystems that sustain even our own kind’s life.

Climate Change Will Increase Already Skyrocketing Food Prices
This week, Earth Policy Institute head and environmental analyst Lester Brown held a press teleconference on the implications of climate change on global grain harvests, which have been suffering as of late due to water shortages, aquifers depletion, severe soil erosion, and rising temperatures. In Chicago, I heard him speak about our coming food security crisis if we don’t act on climate change now: “If last summer’s heat wave in Russia had been in Chicago, we would have lost 40 percent of our country’s grain harvest,” said Brown. “We are only really one harvest away from potential chaos in the world grain market.”

Polar Ice Is Melting Faster Than Anyone Predicted
A newly published scientific satellite study funded by NASA found that polar ice sheets are melting at an unprecedented and fast rate – much faster than anyone predicted. The accelerated loss of these Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is contributing to rapid sea level rises, and scientists have long said that losing this ice cover on the poles will hasten the heating of the atmosphere exponentially – because the icy cover on the poles acts like an air conditioning system, cooling down he rest of the planet. Without it, things will get hot in here real quickly. This is not to even mention the ecosystem losses and extinctions that will result. See above mass extinction point.

Climate Change Poses Huge Problems for U.S. Navy in the Arctic and National Security
The National Academy of Sciences released a report this week saying that climate change will pose huge challenges for the U.S. Navy in the Arctic. “Even the most moderate predicted trends in climate change will present new national security challenges for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard,” said one of the authors of the study, Navy Admiral Frank Bowman. “Naval forces need to monitor more closely and start preparing now for projected challenges climate change will present in the future.”

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.