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Live-blogging the climate science hearings

Filed under: — gavin @ 7 March 2011

I will be live-blogging the House Energy and Commerce committee hearings on climate science with Eli Kintisch. The details are available here, and there should be a live feed from the committee website from 10am.

Eli and I did this last year for the last Democrat-run hearings, and it went quite well – a little like a play-by-play from Eli and some background analysis/cites from me. People can ask questions and comment in real time and depending on how busy it gets, they might get a response.

As usual, this hearing will likely be long on political grandstanding and short on informed discussion, but there might be some gems. Of the witnesses, John Christy and Roger Pielke Sr. are the main witnesses for the majority side, while Richard Somerville, Francis Zwiers and Chris Field are the Dem invitees. There is newcomer to the roster (at least to me), in Knute Nadelhoffer, who presumably will discuss climate change impacts on biological systems (but I don’t really know). There is one out-of-left-field witness, Donald Roberts, who is a serially wrong DDT advocate who is probably there in order to dismiss environmental regulation in general, following the well-worn strategy described in Oreskes and Conway’s “Merchants of Doubt” (Chapter 7 on the revisionist attacks on Rachel Carson) (NB. DDT-related arguments are off topic for this blog, but for background of the specifics of the DDT ‘meme’ see this summary, and interested commenters are encouraged to go to Deltoid).

Anyway, for those who are aficionados of science as contact sport (TM, Steve Schneider), it might be fun.

Update: This was also live-blogged at ClimateCentral and twittered by UCS.

83 Responses to “Live-blogging the climate science hearings”

  1. 1
    Russell says:

    The real elephants in the room/ hearing chamber are Republicans for Environmental Protection – as Nixon appointee Bill Ruckelshaus was the godfather of the EPA , and sundry palaeocons, who staunchly maintain that conservation is, well, conservative.

    Bully for them all.

  2. 2
    Adam R. says:

    “Fun” in the same sense as a jolly tire dump fire.

    [Response: Well yes. ‘Fun’ as opposed to a serious conversation about real issues. Something Tom Yulsman has also noticed. – gavin]

  3. 3
    NY Nick says:

    How are the invitees chosen? I have always been curious….

    I will be missing Drs Santer and Alley this time around – who make up some of my favorite youtube moments.

    -I <3 climate science AND american football

    [Response: The invitees are chosen by the committee, roughly half-half on each side (but it varies according to committee/topic/size of the majority etc.). Christy is a predictable choice for the Republicans (from a pretty thin bench of credible options), and Pielke Sr. was probably chosen because he is perceived to be a critic of the mainstream position on the science (though probably less so than some hope). Zwiers (a Canadian statistician) is there because of the recent paper in Nature on attribution of precipitation intensity extremes, while Somerville and Field are mainstream science picks (from the Dem side). Not sure why Nadlehoffer is there. The DDT guy is obviously a Republican pick, but that was probably just to muddy the waters (and it is a tragedy that this is so predictable). – gavin]

    [Response: Nadelhoffer is a biogeochemist/ecologist with a background in nutrient and carbon cycling in terrestrial ecosystems, including their relationships to climate change. I’m hopeful this means there will be discussions on those topics, though that seems like asking a lot.–Jim]

  4. 4

    Thank you so much for doing this.

  5. 5
    paulina says:

    Thanks for doing this. I thought you and Eli did a great job last time around and really appreciate the effort.

    Fun and games, sure, but having expert annotation in real-time of hearings like these is a genuine step in the right direction, even if there are many more steps to go on the path toward communication and democracy.

    Thanks again.

  6. 6
    David B. Benson says:

    A tragedy, nay, a farce, even if not predicatable.

  7. 7

    The Yulsman piece is well-worth reading, and for that matter, so is the Friedman piece linked within it.

    Each, or both, makes you realize anew just how blindingly, amazingly, stupidly irresponsible the US political system is with regard to energy, climate change, and the Middle East.

    Oh, for a little enlightened self-interest–with the emphasis on “enlightened!”

  8. 8
    Hank Roberts says:

    Is the transcript linked somewhere?

  9. 9
    Peter Backes says:

    You have my utmost sympathy for doing this. Personally, I’d rather be having a root canal.

  10. 10
    Fred Magyar says:

    Perhaps somewhat off topic but…

    This is rather pathetic! A climate change denialist site was voted best science blog?!

  11. 11
    Edward Greisch says:

    I would pick Gavin Schmidt, Mike Mann and James Lovelock. I notice that they ignore my picks.

  12. 12

    Is anyone questioning the repeated lies of the denial side?

    For example, Ben Santer posted a comprehensive rebuttal of the claims that he manipulated the content of Chapter 8 of SAR in this site February 2010. I recently found an extract of a book by prominent climate science denial ranter Bob Carter that repeats the allegations as fact (pp 25-26).

  13. 13
    Paul van Egmond says:

    Good luck, guys. I hope you’ll have a terrific time (and idly wondering how long until the first “Oh no he di’nt” – Jon Stewart style). I’m looking forward to picking through the fruits of your labor.

  14. 14
    don gisselbeck says:

    Remember we are dealing with people whose paychecks depend on their not knowing certain facts, not to mention that their ideology has no place to put the facts.

  15. 15
    Martin Vermeer says:

    The other zoo is better

  16. 16

    Well, as we are talking about politicians, so I would direct you to the following article.


  17. 17
    Knox says:

    Might be interesting to follow the live feed.
    I’m curious what I will read in your posts…

  18. 18
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kevin McKinney says: “Each, or both, makes you realize anew just how blindingly, amazingly, stupidly irresponsible the US political system is with regard to energy, climate change, and the Middle East.”

    Why all the qualifiers. You could have stopped at: “Each, or both, makes you realize anew just how blindingly, amazingly, stupidly irresponsible the US political system is”

    To paraphrase the late, great Molly Ivins: If they weren’t all crooks, liars and idiots, it wouldn’t be representative democracy.

  19. 19
    Eli Rabett says:

    Hopefully one of the witnesses or someone on the committee has been informed of Roy Spencer’s recent trip into the weeds It would be an excellent thing to ask Christy about.

  20. 20
    Roger Albin says:

    Nadelhoffer is on faculty at the University of Michigan. He has been active at a local and regional level on the dangers of climate change (see He has written specifically about climate change and the Great Lakes Region – Michigan. The Committee Chair, Fred Upton, represents southwestern Michigan. Nadelhoffer is probably going to address changes in Michigan – the Great Lakes region in an effort to make this issue more “real” to Upton.

  21. 21

    Ray asked, “Why all the qualifiers.”

    Well, the topics mentioned were what those pieces were about, so I was attempting to maintain some focus.

    Or so I rationalized. Sometimes my malescribism takes the form of properly Canadian diffidence.

  22. 22
    Susan Anderson says:

    Hate to keep harping on about DotEarth, but this could use some more skilled commentary than I can provide (without the animus I usually inspire from the skilled fake skeptics) and Andy as usual makes a pointed statement about exaggeration that I suspect is only partly true:

    Comments have just opened, so wisdom might actually be visible, though crowded out by the always suspicious volume of early disinformer commentary.

  23. 23
    Susan Anderson says:

    Accidentally found this; explains some of the problem. High school kids do not retain information about atmosphere in New York:

  24. 24
    Bob Ward says:

    Viewing this hearing from the UK has left me stunned – is this really the way in which the legislative process in the world’s biggest economy takes place? Two political sides choosing their own experts for a tag team contest, and each side only asking questions of their own experts. And no doubt both will go away claiming that their experts have carried the day.

    I thought the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences was mandated by Congress to provide expert opinion on such issues? And the NRC has provided several detailed assessments which have dealt with all the questions raised at the hearing. It appears that many of the Committee have never encountered the NRC’s assessments, and prefer instead the propaganda of ‘free market’ fundamentalist groups.

    The UK parliamentary process has many flaws, but I’m afraid this embarrassing House hearing makes our process look positively brilliant. I wish the United States could find a better way of ensuring its legislative process is informed by the best expert advice. But I’m afraid today’s display has greatly diminished the reputation of Congress and the United states in general.

  25. 25
    Chris G says:

    If they wanted a panel that represented the real world, shouldn’t there by about 25-50 researchers to balance out Dr. Christy? I really don’t know what the point is; most of these congressmen don’t even know undergrad level physics, and they are making decisions on extremely complicated stuff.

  26. 26
    paul haynes says:

    I’m following the debate both here and at Judith Curry, as the comments are amusing in completely different ways, although, yes, I know its pretty serious business for policy making.

  27. 27
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    It’s hard enough watching politicians at the best of times, but that was horrible. I stopped watching after about 2 hours. Inslee seemed more interested in demonstrating his own knowledge than finding out anything, but the Republican members were partisan at best and incoherent at worst. All of them seemed more interested in making statements than hearing answers, except to smug patsy questions. Bang head on wall.

  28. 28
    GregL says:

    Christy said something to the effect that ‘There is no thermometer that reports human induced warming; that attribution is all model driven.’

    Christy himself reports atmospheric temperatures from instruments via a physical model of the atmosphere. Does that mean that his temperature reports are meaningless because his reports rely upon models?

    Honestly, that lack of consistency ought to count for something in polite company.

    [Response: Christy’s points are mainly rhetorical. All attribution is model based – those models can be GCMs, statistical, intermediate models or whatever, but you need to have some way of assessing what would happen with or without a particular driver. See this post on attribution. He is trying to imply that no attribution is possible at all. – gavin]

  29. 29
    J Bowers says:

    @ 27 One Anonymous Bloke. I wouldn’t be surprised if Inslee was partly making sure that the information was on the Congressional record.

  30. 30
    JayK says:

    My thoughts on the live blogging and committee:
    Roger Pielke Sr. was there to rehash his dislike of the IPCC and anything associated with them, as well as push his idea that the heat island effect is the holy grail of climate science. When he wasn’t being dismissive of the other scientists, he was pushing his own ego like a giant rock up a hill.

    Inslee has read a lot of the science, but he’s fascinated by the popular ideas, not the complex science behind the climate.

    Waxman tried to get the committee back on focus to the EPA standards that might change, along with the subcommittee’s chair, but they didn’t do a very good job. It became a free-for-all, especially when Griffin (R-Louisianna) got to naming almost every farcical denialist claim as if they actually were scientific proof. He also derailed much of the discussion when he tried to push the 1970’s popularized theory of global cooling.

    The live blogging was far too light. ScienceInsider could have done a lot better job. As well, someone needs to address the distortions that Pielke Sr. tried to push out there.

  31. 31
    flxible says:

    Yes, a very sad statement on what passes for governance in what once was the world leader in science and technology.

  32. 32
    pete best says:

    James Hansen states (I think) that 2012 with its el nino event and ACC will hopefully be a unfortunate milestone in the fight in ACC. 2010 was bad enough for Russia, Australia and many other parts of the world and whilst 2011 wont be the warmest it is commented on that 2012 should be.

    The longer we delay action the larger the tanker gets and the harder it is to turn. Can you change a culture of greed, influence, being seduced, vested interests, lobbying, denial, etc, its doubtful based on a alleged non existant threat of ACC to the republicans.

    Its all denial and the media are in the way to of the scientific relevance what increased fossil fuels burning and land use changes mean

  33. 33
    Edward Greisch says:

    I have Mac OS 10.6.6 and Quicktime 10. The machine and a website tell me that I have to install Quicktime 7 and then some 3rd party software so that I can run a .asf file.

  34. 34
    gavin says:

    The one thing that struck me quite forcefully is that the Congress-people really don’t want to talk about science (apart from a couple of clear exceptions). The WVa representative for instance was very focused (unsurprisingly) on his constituents – many of whom rely on the coal industry. No-one on the panel wanted to address his questions – which to be fair are not scientific – but it seems obvious that the question was important, and the lack of a response – even at the level of a personal opinion – was unsatisfying.

    I think someone on the panel should have said something – perhaps along the lines of an acknowledgement that miners are not the culprits here; it is not their fault that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that we are emitting faster than the planet can assimilate. They too are victims, and while Congress (and the world) can rightly decide that continuing coal burning without CCS is too large a risk for global climate, they owe a responsibility to those who will lose out as a response to policies decided because of larger concerns. It probably would not have appeased the Congressman, but ignoring the fact that reducing carbon emissions will inevitably have impacts on the fossil fuel extraction industry, seems odd. The other bone that could be tossed might be the development of large scale CCS – if the problems there can be sorted out efficiently.

  35. 35
    Edward Greisch says:

    I mean I’ll watch the hearing later. That is too much installing just to watch that hearing.

  36. 36
    Septic Matthew says:

    18, Ray Ladbury: Why all the qualifiers. You could have stopped at: “Each, or both, makes you realize anew just how blindingly, amazingly, stupidly irresponsible the US political system is”

    This is not new. It began with the Continental Congresses, and continued through the Washington, Lincoln, FDR and LBJ administrations. It is not peculiar to the U.S. Judging from migrations, and petitions to immigrate, not a lot of actual systems are actively preferred to ours, however.

  37. 37
    Septic Matthew says:

    34, Gavin: they owe a responsibility to those who will lose out as a response to policies decided because of larger concerns. It probably would not have appeased the Congressman, but ignoring the fact that reducing carbon emissions will inevitably have impacts on the fossil fuel extraction industry, seems odd. The other bone that could be tossed might be the development of large scale CCS – if the problems there can be sorted out efficiently.

    FWIW, I agree.

  38. 38
    Chris G says:

    This pattern seems pretty common in the arguments/debates that I see.
    “Fixing the problem is too expensive.” is commonly used to counter “Houston, we have a problem.” The expense of fixing the problem is not at all a counter to the fact that there is a problem, but it is perceived to be by too many, or so it would seem.

    Sure, there are costs associated with fixing the problem, but those who argue from a costs perspective seldom relate what it will cost to fix the problem with what it will cost to not fix the problem. And in all honesty, that is difficult to quantify. We might as well face it that the ride of cheap energy is over, or at least on hiatus until alternatives are in large scale production. I liken it to someone haggling over what it will cost to have firemen come to put out the fire in their house; meanwhile, the fire is spreading.

    Fixing the problem basically means putting the coal industry out of business, and they know this. It is hard to imagine what could be done or said that will appease someone threatened with being systematically driven out of business.

    [Response: CCS is one thing. Scholarships for mining families is another. Additional training, landscape renovation projects, etc. What happened to communities built around asbestos mines? Or the families in Centralia, PA? Or mining villages in Wales? Things can be done that are better than nothing. – gavin]

  39. 39
    M says:

    “his constituents – many of whom rely on the coal industry”

    I always wonder how much actual west virginian residents benefit from the coal industry… there seems to be, at a superficial level, a correlation between resource-rich/extraction-intensive regions and poverty both within the US and internationally. How much of the money made by mining and selling coal goes to miners compared to the Wall Street based owners? And, the corollary, if a CO2 tax was imposed, how much would that take money out of the pockets of miners compared to owners?

    In the long term, the coal industry will probably shrink in response to high carbon prices, so there the question is can the funds raised be used for worker retraining programs and other ways to help the actual West Virginians (in contrast, again, to the owners).

    Not to completely diss owners of capital, land, and companies: good company management deserves commensurate rewards for what is a (presumably) rare resource and what often requires many hours (though behind a desk rather than in a mine): also, stocks of coal companies are presumably owner by many kinds of individuals: but certainly, the rhetoric one hears is always about the poor miner who needs a job and not the owner.


    [Response: Agreed. But that doesn’t change the fact the coal miners (like the asbestos miners) are not to blame for the consequences of their product. There is strong evidence that the local impact of mining is very deleterious on local population as well, and of course, mining is no picnic either, so it isn’t a given that everyone in WV is pro-coal. – gavin]

  40. 40

    That’s right, Gavin. appease them!

    That’ll work. It works for Roger, look how famous and popular he is. And he sells lots of books too, I bet.

    [Response: Really? Do try to be a little serious. – gavin]

  41. 41
    SecularAnimist says:

    Gavin wrote: “… ignoring the fact that reducing carbon emissions will inevitably have impacts on the fossil fuel extraction industry, seems odd.”

    Well, the Koch Brothers are certainly not ignoring that fact. Indeed, it is their acute awareness of that fact that leads them to fund the election campaigns of politicians who then work aggressively to block any efforts to reduce emissions.

    Ignoring the fact that those politicians have essentially been paid to delay and obstruct any and all emissions reductions efforts, no matter what climate science tells us, does indeed seem odd.

  42. 42
    One Anonymous Bloke says:

    J Bowers #29 Could he not have done that in written testimony? I think he missed an opportunity. One point that stuck in my caw was Christie’s remarks about the arctic melt. He said words to the effect that the melt was being caused by different (presumeably warmer) air and ocean currents, not AGW. No mention of what might be causing the warmer currents. I think he came quite close to false testimony there. Perhaps I just misunderstood him.

    [Response: He was talking about atmospheric circulation patterns (the NAO/AO etc), which do impact the interannual variation of ice. But he wrongly implied they were responsible for the trend, for which there is no evidence whatsoever. – gavin]

  43. 43
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Septic Matthew, The American ruling class (not the politicians, but those who buy them their offices) is now a fully fledged kleptocracy. The only thing most of these rich bastards know how to do is hold onto granddaddy’s money. They are supported in this by a nation of idiots, to stupid even to acknowledge the concept of physical reality, let alone identify what constitutes physical reality.

    Ben Franklin said that eventually Americans would become too lazy and corrupt to govern themselves. He was correct.

  44. 44

    Do try to be a little serious.

    You don’t know what serious is, Gavin, so let me try to explain it to you as gently as I can. EVERYONE is a carbon emitter. To suggest that coal miners are less guilty of a global problem than anyone else is not only apologetic appeasement, it’s quite obviously wrong.

    [Response: Sure everyone is a carbon emitter, but my livelihood does not depend on whether my electricity comes from solar or coal, or whether I drive a gasoline-powered car or cycle. To assume as you appear to be doing that all costs associated with a carbon price however implemented will be spread evenly across the population is naive. It won’t be, and there will be some groups who will be proportionately disadvantaged (and others who are unaffected). Why is this even contentious? – gavin]

  45. 45

    To assume as you appear to be doing that all costs associated with a carbon price however implemented will be spread evenly across the population is naive.

    To assume that ANY carbon pricing scheme is going to solve this problem is your naivete, not mine. My perspective is based upon a realism of the scope and scale of the problem, not on yours or anyone else’s fantasies of the type of bandaide solutions that are capable of solving it. The level of self delusion about the situation here on this planet among the intellectual scientific community (which includes yourself) is really quite astonishing. This is contentious because you aren’t even in the ballpark about what is coming, how soon it is coming and what has to be done to put a dent in it. It’s like you aren’t even on the same planet, gavin, independent of your scientific specialty. You are simply not seeing the big picture. Sad, really, as the scientific community should among those to grasp the nature of the coming societal meltdown and should be the most vocal in bringing the inevitable to the fore of the conversation.

    [Response: I look forward to seeing any actual outcome from your approach (angry blog comments don’t count). Please keep us posted. – gavin]

  46. 46

    I look forward to seeing any actual outcome from your approach

    By my approach you mean – increased efficiency, more insulation, more alternative energy, more reforestation and species protections, better and more widespread education, widespread birth control promotion, innovative technological breakthroughs in condensed matter physics and solid state technology, and the cultivation of a deep public appreciation for nature, life, science and self sufficiency, as opposed to say, taxing or pricing the carbon combustion of an already intransigent industry that is going to continue burning come hell or high water no matter what you demand.

    You tell me what is the more realistic solution. Pain is coming, the idea is to minimize that pain.

  47. 47

    Gavin said:
    [Response: Christy’s points are mainly rhetorical. All attribution is model based – those models can be GCMs, statistical, intermediate models or whatever, but you need to have some way of assessing what would happen with or without a particular driver. See this post on attribution. He is trying to imply that no attribution is possible at all. – gavin]

    Arguing that attribution is impossible because it’s model-based is a rabbit hole Christy really doesn’t want to go down. At the fundamental level he’s arguing from attribution of the movement of an apple to gravity as it falls would be impossible too. After all, gravitation is model-based as well.

    His own models would thus be rendered useless, as would all of science. Back to phlogiston, anyone?

  48. 48
    MapleLeaf says:

    Gavin et al.,

    I have been thinking a little bit about the circus that we were witness to this morning. The GOP representatives seemed wholly ignorant of the science, and eager to latch onto any notion that supports their ideology, regardless of how inaccurate, incorrect or mythical it is. This is clearly an ideological issue for them, regardless of what they might claim. You can present them with the truth, the facts, but that will not change their minds.

    That these men representing the GOP have been elected to office is reflects how very poorly informed the electorate are (even farmers) on the science. To be honest I was floored by the level of ignorance the GOP representatives displayed as well as their clear disdain for science. They GOP representatives were frequently guilty of making argumentum ad absurdum (e.g., talking about banning CO2, or EPA forcing Americans to going back to the 1800s), arguing straw men, floating red herrings, and not to mention myths.

    I am not going to venture to know how to solve this– ideology and science don’t mix. These are clearly dark days for science in the USA, and the scientist and EPA are going to face a huge uphill battle.

    Christy and Pielke Snr seemed happy to give the myths and misguided ideas of the GOP representatives free pass, while also making several misleading, incorrect and fallacious statements themselves. It was unfortunate that the others in the know did not have time to address that misinformation. Do people like Pielke Snr know that ideologues are using their science to rationalize doing nothing and attacking science? If so, does that not bother them?

    This whole sad episode left me incredibly discouraged, and I fear that the words shared with me by one of the IPCC Nobel laureates might come true. They said “We are f*$#ed”. At the time I thought they were being a little dramatic and overly pessimistic, but if the ignorance of the GOP goes unchecked, they may well be shown to be correct.

    Next time they do this, the scientists need to be afforded the time to address each and every one of the myths perpetuated by the contrarian scientists and/or the politicians. Their ignorance needs to be exposed for all Americans to see.

    PS: On an optimistic note, Dr. Somerville in particular was brilliant.

  49. 49
    MarkB says:

    Missed the hearing but followed the live blogging. I was impressed with the quality of blogging and comments. Would be nice if the Congresspersons had experts with live access to that, so they could question the witnesses in real-time. The whole Christy Models Don’t Match Data could be examined more closely, along with perhaps a recounting of the history of the UAH record, his conflicting peer-reviewed comments on the matter, and the general usefulness (or lack thereof) of trying to imply anything about climate sensitivity from a short record. The various strawmen and other bogus rhetoric from Pielke and Roberts and could be handled as well. Pielke and Christy’s arguments appear almost rational compared to Roberts.

  50. 50
    Susan Anderson says:

    I’m with Gavin on consequences. Thanks for stating the obvious that we all have trouble facing.

    On education, please note the link on high school education from my post 23. I’ve been harping on forever about the fact that until we get proper undistracted education (kids not using cell phones in school, for example, so they can’t outnumber their teachers and ignore them), respect for education, and respect for how hard it is to qualify as a real scientist must be addressed or nothing else will work.

    I was struck recently by the increase in traffic and automatic attack machine that defends Judith Curry. What this means is that most of the population (over 99%, I’d guess) have no idea what science education is or what science does. This is a fundamental problem.

    Sadly, Ray Ladbury nails it 43:

    “a fully fledged kleptocracy”

    The chiefs want to get rid of all the indians, and ignorance is their friend.

    I am not a scientist, but it is not necessary to be a scientist to respect (a) the scientific process and (b) history. Not to mention the real world outside your twitter/facebook/infotainment engine.

    The ignorant are now proud of it. They no longer have to try to learn, they can just insult learninbg.