Republican Skeptics Among the Climate Change Believers


While a lot of activist groups were disappointed, to say the least, about the "non-deal" reached here at the Copenhagen climate change conference, there was at least one group whose hopes that the whole Copenhagen conference would collapse appeared to be fulfilled, a delegation of six Republicans from the U.S. House of Representatives.

"The fact that there is not an agreement coming out of the conference is not a bad outcome in my opinion," declared Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.)  presciently at a press conference before the diplomatic implosion had become official. The head of the delegation and long-time skeptic of anthropogenic global warming, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), noted "There's a lot of frustration here because the world is stuck with the Kyoto framework, but the Kyoto framework does not work." In fact, Sensenbrenner and the Obama administration are on the same page here—or at least on adjacent pages—since both favor scrapping the Kyoto Protocol. On the other hand, the developing countries, most especially including China, are fiercely refusing to give up on the Kyoto Protocol, chiefly because under it they don't have to do anything to control their emissions of greenhouse gases.

During the Republican press conference, several of the members expressed considerable skepticism about the science behind man-made global warming. Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), referencing the recently leaked emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, claimed that the negotiations here were based on "science that is fraudulent." He added, "We should not be basing any treaty on data that is corrupt."

A reporter from Sea Change radio, a nonprofit with a sustainability message, asked each one of the six if they believed in anthropogenic global warming. Sensenbrenner responded that he'd been more accepting of global warming before the Climate Research Unit's emails, touching off the Climategate scandal. Now he thinks that there needs to be an independent investigation to see if the data stand up. Barton said that he didn't believe that anthropogenic climate change had been proven. Sullivan asked how anyone could make a decision considering the "culture of corruption" that the Climategate emails had revealed. And Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said, "No, I don't believe that it's settled science." Fred Upton (R-Mich.) ducked the question by saying that he thought the U.S. could get to lower emissions using technologies like nuclear power. 

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) also brushed aside the question and said that the focus of discussions should be on innovation. She pointed out that 98 percent of her state's electricity is produced by burning coal and that restrictions on carbon would cause great damage to her state's economy. The congresswoman offered an example of the type of innovation she'd like to see, citing the $334 million grant that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded a week ago to the American Electric Power Company to build a new carbon capture and sequestration demonstration plant. The idea is that electric power plants will capture the carbon dioxide they emit while burning coal and keep it out of the atmosphere by injecting it underground. Whether or not the congresswoman accepts global warming as true, she clearly believes in political pork.

If the science needs investigating, a reporter from Mother Jones magazine asked, who should do it? Barton replied that he thought the science did need investigating, citing the now infamous Climategate emails that suggested possible manipulation of data, attempts to frustrate Freedom of Information Act requests, and refusal to release modeling and data sets so that others could evaluate them. Barton added that the scientists involved were not outliers, but senior scientists very closely involved with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is responsible for assembling and evaluating the science that has pointed toward man-made warming. Who conduct the independent investigation? Barton ruled out any U.N. involvement and suggested perhaps the National Academy of Sciences would be an appropriate venue. Barton added that the investigation would have to include not just climatologists but researchers schooled in other disciplines such as statistics. Of course, the National Academy of Sciences has already issued many reports on global climate change.

"Some say that the science is settled; some say it's not. But what is conclusive is the economics and Waxman-Markey is a huge exporter of jobs," said Sensenbrenner. "The economics is conclusive and terrible in terms of jobs and manufacturing." The Wisconsin congressman correctly equated the Waxman-Markey bill with a tax on energy, and concluded, "Any increase in energy taxes is a job killer." Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) agreed, asserting that the U.S. would lose 4.7 million jobs if the Waxman-Markey bill ever went into effect.

The six Republicans confidently declared that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade scheme would never get out of Congress. Sullivan noted that the Waxman-Markey bill barely passed the House back in June by a margin of just seven votes. Sensenbrenner claimed that a lot of Democrats are now regretting being strong-armed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi into supporting the bill and predicted that many would not be re-elected. Upton made this bold prediction: "This Waxman-Markey bill would lose by 50 votes if it were up for a vote now. This bill is dead in the water as it is and that's why it's DOA in the Senate."

Prior to the collapse, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) had declared at the Copenhagen conference that getting climate change legislation passed in the U.S. this spring, "can be enormously assisted by what happens here." Once the non-deal was announced, the Massachusetts senator as a team player was still gamely peddling the same line, saying, "With this in hand, we can work to pass domestic legislation early next year to bring us across the finish line." We'll all find out this spring who is the better political prognosticator, Kerry or Upton. After the diplomatic debacle here in Copenhagen, my bet is on Upton.