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Hearing of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee - A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response


Location: Unknown

The purpose of today's hearing is to conduct an objective review of the science behind the greenhouse effect, climate change and ocean acidification. My impression has been for some time that many members of the public and perhaps some in Congress have never had the opportunity to consider the basic science and for that matter the long history of investigation and data that underlie scientific understanding of the greenhouse effect and, more recently, of ocean acidification.

Therefore, today we have three panels of experts with us. The first panel will begin today's hearing by setting the foundation of basic science. They will explain to us the fundamental physics and chemistry underlying the role of CO2 and other atmospheric gasses in regulating or altering our planet's temperature and the acidity of the oceans. A bit of scientific history lesson will be included as we learn that the science behind this issue goes back more than one hundred years. This panel will also address questions about how much CO2 has been entering the atmosphere, from what sources, and with what predicted effects.

From the basic scientific findings and methodologies described by the first panel, we will then consider whether or not the predicted impacts of CO2 on temperature and ocean acidity are in fact occurring. In other words, we will ask the question, "If basic science makes certain predictions about what should happen if CO2 levels increase in the air and oceans, what is actually happening in the "real world", how do we know if it is happening or not, and what can we predict for the future?

The third and final panel will then discuss the impacts that are being observed and that can be anticipated from climate change and ocean acidification. Our witnesses will discuss how we are already responding today and actions we need to take to prepare for the future. This analysis includes such matters as national security, social impacts, economic effects, and health concerns among others.

I have had the opportunity in preparation for this hearing to read all of the written testimony. I want to thank the witnesses for taking time from their busy schedules to prepare this material and submit it beforehand for the committee analysis. I hope and trust many of my colleagues have taken the time as I have to read the testimony of all the witnesses.

Before we hear from the witnesses, I want to make just a few key points.

As someone who has taught scientific methodology and basic statistics, and having published in peer review journals, I place a paramount importance, paramount importance, on scientific integrity. That is why I authored the language in the America Competes act which makes it mandatory for institutions seeking NSF funding to include explicit training in scientific ethics as a required part of their curricula. I am proud to say initial reports from NSF and the academic community indicate this is having a substantial and positive effect as institutions that formally provided no such explicit training have indeed incorporated it into their training regimes.

I mention this here because, after all, this is the Science and Technology committee. We simply must, if we are to have any credibility at all, insist that our witnesses adhere to the highest standards of scientific integrity. Simultaneously, we members of Congress must hold ourselves and this committee as an institution to that standard in our study of the issues and in our conduct today and in the future.

In the context of climate change and ocean acidification, I also believe that because our nation is the biggest historical producer and second largest current producer of greenhouse gasses, we have a profound moral responsibility to be sure we get this right. Scripture teaches us to love thy neighbor as thyself. If our disproportionate impacts on the rest of the world are harming billions of other people and countless other species, we are not living up to that scriptural guidance.

Finally, even if one completely rejects the evidence that will be presented today and in reports from the National Academies of Science and countless other respected bodies, it still makes good sense to strive for our nation to be a leader in clean energy technology for economic self interest alone. Is not the reality of sending hundreds of billions of dollars abroad, often to countries with values antithetical to our own, at least a bit troubling? Is not the national security risk this creates disconcerting? Are the known impacts, such as Exxon Valdez, the recent Gulf Oil spill, and numerous other events not of sufficient concern to argue for change? Are not the facts of "red alert" days in our nation's cities, days in which it is "unsafe to breathe" for our children, cause for some degree of consternation?

I believe the evidence of climate change and ocean acidification is compelling and troubling, but even without that conclusion, I am convinced that we must change our energy policies for reasons of economics, national security and environmental and human health.

The United States has long been a leader in renewable energy technology and I believe we must remain a leader. This committee, under the leadership of Chairman Gordon and before him Chairman Boehlert, has taken positive steps to ensure that continues. So too, we have been at the forefront of climate research and should remain a leader there as well. We must continue this endeavor if we intend to leave our children and grandchildren a strong economy, and truly independent and secure nation, and an environment in which they can live, work, and play.

I'm excited about this hearing and these three panels of witnesses that will help us to better understand the concepts and impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. I want to personally and sincerely thank you for being here today and I look forward to each of your testimonies.

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