Democrats use climate study to bash GOP skeptics

Two Democrats seized on the findings of a scientist who reversed his position on global warming to lash out at Republican skeptics and call for prompt action to prevent what one of them called “potentially devastating climate change.’’

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., criticized House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans for not responding to his requests for a hearing on the study led by Richard Muller, a physicist who had previously expressed concerns about possible biases in key temperature data. Committee Republicans have repeatedly suggested that the science on climate change isn’t settled.

“When a prominent climate skeptic publishes a study determining that global warming is real, that is information that members of Congress need to hear,” Waxman, the committee’s top Democrat, said at a Capitol Hill briefing featuring Muller and other climate scientists. Waxman, whose Democrats are in the minority in the House, was joined by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Muller, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, said the study examined 1.6 million surface temperature measurements from nearly 40,000 monitors. The results, he said, addressed his concerns that temperature recordings were unreliable and confirmed that “global warming is real.”

Waxman also pointed to a report from the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that said society may have just five years to act before “potentially devastating climate change becomes irreversible.”

“If we fail to act, future generations will never understand why we squandered a shrinking opportunity to protect the planet,” Waxman said.

Charlotte Baker, spokeswoman for Republicans in charge of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said GOP members already have held a hearing this year on climate science and are now focusing “on creating jobs and promoting common-sense solutions that protect both the environment and the economy.”

Muller’s study doesn’t address whether humans are causing global warming. But two other scientists at the briefing, Bill Chameides of Duke University and Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, strongly affirmed the viewpoint of nearly all climate scientists that since 1950, humans very likely have caused most of the observed global warming.

Santer denied that climate scientists have ignored skeptics’ claims that natural forces have caused the warming. He said scientists “routinely consider alternative hypotheses and whether they fit.”

“The bottom line in each case is that natural causation alone cannot explain the increase we see,” Santer said.

And while some uncertainty exists over the risks posed by climate change, “uncertainty is not a reason for inaction,” Chameides said. “To the contrary, it can be an important reason for action.”

Waxman said that among the risks posed by continued warming, one of the most serious is a likely increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events.

Climate advocates raised the same concerns in a separate phone briefing Monday, citing record droughts in Texas and flooding in the Midwest.

But Muller said in an interview that some extreme events may increase while others may decrease. “I think we don’t know yet whether the observed global warming is leading to one or the other,” Muller said.

Some of the most intense action on climate change and resulting extreme weather events is occurring on the local level, said Brian Holland of Local Governments for Sustainability, a coalition of local governments seeking to address climate change in their communities.

“Concern for future extreme weather hazards is a driver of climate preparedness in American communities,” Holland said in the phone briefing.

In preparing for the effects of climate change, society should make sure to tie in greenhouse-gas emission reductions, or else adapting will become even harder, Holland added.