Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican chair of the House Science Committee who also happens to believe global warming might actually be a really good thing, flew off the hook this week. The cause? The New York Times publicised a draft version of a federal scientific report which climate scientists worry Donald Trump’s administration is preparing to suppress or doctor.
In a statement, Smith argued the “alarmist media is at it again” and tried to one-up the thousands of studies referred to in the report, suggesting he knows better than the tens of thousands of scientists who wrote them.
Seriously, Smith is done with the whole Republican “I’m not a scientist” line. In his telling, Smith has practically done the research himself, with his mighty brain striking like thunder at dubious scientific methodology.
“In numerous instances, the report fails to examine some of the most current data,” Smith wrote. “For example, the impact of El Nino on the climate is completely downplayed and misconstrued to conflict with historical reports. Moreover, this alarmist reporting attempts to falsely link extreme weather events to climate change, when the data has never suggested this. Making temperature predictions far into the future has proven to be nothing more than speculation, and goes against the principles of scientific integrity.”
The report published by the Times requires final sign-off by 13 US federal agencies and the White House, so Smith might not have much say in its final conclusions. But he did seem to confirm a general Republican objective of cooking the books, writing, “We should treat this document for what it is, an unfinished draft that requires serious revision. To report it in any other way is just fake news.”
Several real climate scientists contacted by Gizmodo felt Smith was not as up to snuff on his research as he claimed to be, however.
“These comments reflect the utterances of someone who either doesn’t have the faintest understanding of the science, or has total contempt for scientific truth,” Michael Mann, climatologist, geophysicist and director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, told Gizmodo.
“To conflate El Nino (which is a climate fluctuation that occurs on timescales of a few years) with climate change (which describes trends over decades) is the last refuge of the climate change confusionist,” he added. “And given that model forecasts made decades ago successfully predicted the human-caused warming that has occurred since, the only thing that is ‘nothing more than speculation’ and in defiance of ‘the principles of scientific integrity’ is Lamar Smith’s fossil-fuelled attack on the scientific discipline.”
Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University geosciences professor and regular Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contributor, told Gizmodo that Smith “seems to be reading from the contrarian script rather than listening to climate scientists”.
“For example: Increases in the intensity and frequency of extreme heat including deadly heat waves such as the ones that killed about 40,000 Europeans in 2003 and devastated parts of Russia in 2010 have been convincingly linked to climate change,” Oppenheimer added. “Our ability to attribute the characteristics of some types of extreme events to climate change has been confirmed by the National Academy of Sciences. Does Smith know better than the best US scientists?”
Richard Alley, another Penn State geosciences professor and expert on the Earth’s cryosphere, noted Smith was correct the report was a draft finished some time ago, so it could not include “the absolutely most recent data.”
But Alley suggested reading a 2016 National Academy of Sciences report that he wrote showed “some extreme weather events can be attributed to climate change, in the sense that we have made them more likely, and more of them or more extreme ones are occurring”.
“This does not say that every extreme can or should be blamed on climate change, but some events are linked, with high confidence,” Alley added.
Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and lead author of three IPCC scientific assessments, called Smith’s remarks “woeful ignorance, openly advertised!” and “certainly fake, or should I say, completely wrong”.
“The impact of El Nino is well known and is indeed taken into account,” Trenberth wrote. “It does not undermine the fact that 2016 is the warmest year on record, and 2015 second. Yes, both were influenced by the big El Nino, but 2014 is the next warmest and it wasn’t.”
He added there is “abundant evidence” the recent increase in extreme weather, like Hurricane Sandy and widespread flooding in the southern US, was the result of human-inducted climate change.
“The statistics for heavy rains increasing are very robust, although the effect has been greatest in the Northeast,” Trenberth added. “Meanwhile stronger droughts (think California), and now year-round wild fire seasons, cause tremendous hardship and disruption and monetary losses. The huge flood along the Front Range in the Denver-Boulder area in 2013 has now been confirmed to have the rainfall increased by 30 per cent due to human-induced climate change.”
“The scientific evidence is overwhelming, and scientific integrity has everything to do with scientists crying out a warning,” Trenberth concluded.
The four scientists who spoke with Gizmodo are just a tiny fragment of the greater climate science community, which nearly universally agrees humans are responsible for climate change, which virtually all of them also agree could have disastrous impacts on the human species. Smith is just one dude who won a few elections in Texas and has no formal scientific qualifications whatsoever, but who does take an awful lot of money from the oil and gas industry.
It doesn’t really take a scientist to figure this one out, but you should probably listen to what they have to say anyway.