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Dec 012010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Climate change deniers have sprung up like volcanic mud pots in the U.S. Congress in the last few years, burbling about how climate change is either not happening or not caused by the carbon pollution that scientists around the world blame for arctic ice melts, glacier loss, rising seas, stronger storms, drought, wildfires and other dramatic climate changes.

The deniers gained strength after the last elections when many politicians perceived that much of the public agreed climate change was either not happening or not caused by human pollution. A post-election study by the Wonk Room in collaboration with a Daily Kos reporter found that virtually every state now has at least one representative lodged in Congress who says climate change is a myth. Many of these lawmakers have vowed to stop U.S. action against climate change.

Rep. Edward J. Markey held hearings on energy security today.

Today, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, fired a few shots back at the denial crowd, calling in experts like Waterkeeper Alliance chairman Robert Kennedy Jr., retired Navy Vice Chairman Dennis McGinn and Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick to testify about the twin problems of energy dependence and climate change.

A key point that these experts tried to drive home: American reliance on vast quantities of oil, and coal, causes both economic hardship and  hastens climate change.

“It is clear to me that our economic, energy, climate change and national security challenges are inextricably linked,” testified McGinn. “And it is also clear that our past pattern of energy use is responsible, in a significant way, for our economic situation today.”

The problem of America’s fossil fuel addiction is big enough that taking baby steps in another direction won’t turn the tide, he said.

A “business as usual approach to fossil fuels”  is a “real job killer,” McGinn testified.

“By continuing our over reliance on fossil fuels and fearfully taking only small, incremental steps, we will not create the kind of future energy security, jobs and prosperity that the American people and our great Nation deserve.”

Kennedy also urged the nation to think big when thinking about the economy, energy and climate change solutions.

“We stand now on the cusp of a new global era, one that will be defined by the international race to build the energy systems of the future,” he testified.

Act now, and America can save itself from falling behind China, Japan, Germany and other countries that are moving decisively to build clean energy economies, create jobs and reduce pollution, he said.

“Around the globe, the race is on to develop the technologies of tomorrow that will foster new
economic growth, allow the freedom to power that economy with homemade energy, and reduce
the dangerous pollution that threatens public health and environmental stability. I believe
whichever nation wins this race will hold the reins of power for decades to come. I want that
nation to be ours—and I believe it will be.”

Markey seems to share those views, noting in his opening remarks that the U.S. is risking its economic well being by hesitating on the threshold of change.

“Twice as much money was invested in clean energy in China as was invested in the United States last year. As we heard from the private investment community, this move by China will attract trillions in
private capital – money that could be invested in jobs here at home,” said Markey, who helped lead the passage of a climate/energy bill in the House in 2009.

“And China is not alone,” he said. “Germany, Japan, South Korea, and other countries recognize that
dominating the trillion dollar market of tomorrow requires foresight and public
investment today. Regardless of our political party, we can all agree that second place in
the clean energy race is an unacceptable goal.”

Many believe the U.S. must cut oil consumption to reduce military conflict, improve the economy and the environment. (Photo: Houston Tomorrow.)

While Markey tried to rally those who believe climate and energy issues need addressing, some of those testifying discussed the barriers to change.

Peter Gleick, a nationally recognized water expert, elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and head of the Pacific Institute in San Francisco, challenged the position of climate deniers, saying that their arguments against climate change do not raise any salient scientific points.

“The science of climate change is clear and convincing that climate change is happening, happening rapidly, and happening because of human activities,” Gleick said in opening his remarks before the committee. “…But no one who argues against the science of climate change has ever provided an alternative scientific theory that adequately satisfies the observable evidence or conforms to our understanding of physics, chemistry, and climate dynamics.”

Climate deniers cite religion or ideology as the basis of their beliefs, Gleick said, and thereby fail to scientifically rebut what thousands of scientists around the world agree upon, that climate change is real.

For the past two decades, Gleick said, the science has been showing that:

  • The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atomphere.
  • Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  • Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
  • Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic (water) cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic. And many other changes are seen to be happening.
  • The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, human health, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Gleick testified that these changes are not the anticipated part of some distant future, but are already happening.

McGinn explained that climate change also is already destabilizing the world, by threatening natural resources and fragile economies and political systems around the world. Drought, storms and disease around the world can spur conflicts that ultimately threaten U.S. security and interests, he said, which is why many military leaders support taking action to curb climate change, he said.

“Some may be surprised to hear former generals and admirals talk about climate
change and energy threats… but they shouldn’t be. In the military, you learn quickly that reducing threats and vulnerabilities is essential, well before you get into harm’s way,” McGinn said.

Often, military leaders are confronted with situations where the causes and issues are unclear or ambiguous, he told the committee.

“…But in the
case of climate change, the information is not ambiguous. The global and U.S.
science community has reached a clear and fact-based consensus in concluding that our earth is warming and that human activities are a significant contributor to climate change. There is no disagreement in peer-reviewed  literature. Every major professional science society and organization in the world has issued powerful statements to this effect, including the National
Academies of Sciences for every major country.”

“…We need to take appropriate action.”

  • See the testimony by McGinn, Kennedy and Gleick and others at the Select Subcommittee website. (Click on their names to get the full transcript of their testimony.

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