Hardly anyone would play Russian roulette with a one-in-six chance of fatality. Representative Don Beyer (VA-8) drew this analogy at a roundtable discussion on Tuesday, wondering why the United States would take a gamble on climate action when 97 percent of climate scientists agree the climate is changing.
At the roundtable hosted by Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), scientists and climate policy experts discussed the scientific basis for climate action and the international ramifications of climate policies.
The first panel centered around climate science. Unlike most recent hearings held by the committee, climate science was not debated; rather, its alarming impacts were discussed. While most of the talk focused on regional changes and extreme weather events, several panelists addressed the impacts of a changing climate on our ocean and coasts. Dr. Philip Duffy (President and Executive Director, Woods Hole Research Center) shared how he views sea level rise, melting permafrost, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events as some of the worst consequences of our changing climate. Dr. Ben Santer (Atmospheric Scientist, Program for Climate Model) added to Dr. Duffy’s concerns about ocean acidification and the unnatural speed with which it is occurring, saying “these changes that we’re witnessing and measuring in ocean pH are happening in a blink of the eye relative to geological timescales.” Additionally, all three panelists underscored the credibility of peer-reviewed science. “We are our own fiercest critics,” said Dr. Santer, emphasizing the meticulous nature of the peer-review process. Dr. Duffy agreed, adding that “scientists make their reputations by overturning conventional wisdom, so if that were possible to do, it would have been done within the normal scientific process.”
The second panel was largely focused around the Paris climate accord. Despite the United States’ withdrawal from the historic 2015 agreement, panelists highlighted work the rest of the world has agreed to continue doing to lower emissions, develop new energy technology, and improve upon their five-year commitments. Mr. Manish Bapna (Executive Vice President and Managing Director, World Resources Institute) also explained how addressing climate change affects the economy; decarbonization has economic benefits because it leads to growth, generates greater efficiency, spurs innovation, and creates predictability for business. In this same vein, Dr. Bernard Goldstein (Environmental Toxicologist, Emeritus Professor and Emeritus Dean, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health) feels that scientists and policymakers need to focus more on the “so what?” question raised by the data; he argued the administration should focus on the societal effects of climate change, from public health to national security. He also stressed that “human-caused climate change is not a belief system,” emphasizing the overwhelming reality of the data.