Yesterday’s Senate hearing shows why climate policy has gridlocked

Summary: Here is the video and transcript of a revealing discussion at yesterday’s Senate hearing about climate change. It shows in miniature how the debate about public policy to fight climate change has become gridlocked.

Cover of "Turning the Tide On Climate Change" by Robert Kandel
Cover of “Turning the Tide On Climate Change” by Robert Kandel (2009)

Hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee:
“Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate
Over the Magnitude of the Human Impact on Earth’s Climate”.

I recommend attention to the Q&A at the hearing between Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Judith Curry (Prof Atmospheric Science, GA Inst Tech), and Mark Steyn (arts reviewer and conservative activist, introduced by Senator Cruz as “an international bestselling author, a Top Five jazz recording artist, and a leading Canadian human rights activist”).

You can see a video of the hearing and the witnesses’ written testimony at the Senate website. Here is Prof Curry’s verbal testimony. The witnesses mostly rehashed material long-familiar to anyone following both sides of the debate (but, as usual, astonishing to the majority following only one side).

I found the Q&A more interesting, as it nicely illustrates why this important issue has become gridlocked — and policy discussions like Kabuki (formal opera, predictable but entertaining).

The transcript appears below, followed by a few comments by me.

——————– Computer-generated transcript ——————–

World burning
Can’t debate people who believe the world is burning.

Curry: Is it possible for me to respond? You basically ..

Markey: I did not ask for ask you a question

Steyn: Really, why can’t why can’t she respond. You basically impugned her integrity. I think she’s entitled…

Markey: You are welcome to respond

Curry: I was basically called a denier, that I’m denying science. Did you read my written testimony? Are you aware that the IPCC in the consensus has no explanation for the increase of ice in the Antarctic? Are you aware that they have no explanation for the fact that the rate of sea-level rise from 1920 to 1950 was as large if not larger as it currently is Are you aware that temperatures have been warming for more than two hundred years and that in the 20th century 40% of the warming occurred before 1950 when carbon dioxide was not a factor in the warming? I could go on. Many of these issues are raised in my written testimony and our most of it is pulled from the IPCC itself. The IPCC has an explanation, so it says, for warming during the period 1975 to 2008. It doesn’t have an explanation for the flat period since 2000. It doesn’t have an explanation …

Markey: In my testimony corroborated by Dr. Titley this is the warmest year ever recorded. Last year is the warmest year ever recorded until this year. This is the warmest November ever recorded. October is the warmest October ever. You do not have an answer for that, doctor.

Curry: Yes, I do. …

Markey: You continue to ignore the chart which Doctor Titley has over his left shoulder. He has documented for this committee the warming trend which is inexorable inevitable in terms of its consequences unless we take action here. That’s the science and you’re having a hard time responding to.

Curry: The issue is what is causing the warming.

Markey: Is that natural variability for is that humans? Like Galileo, he said “no the science”. The science is clear. Are you depending upon perhaps this is God-made rather than dependent upon something that is man-made, which is anthropogenic and documented by 97%?

Steyn: Are you saying there’s no natural variability, Senator? There were alligators at the North Pole. What was that site you and your SUV?

Markey: What I am saying is that this warming is something that while it may have variability, year-to-year in specific parts of the planet that the trend is straight up.

Steyn: Yeah, do you know what the Little Ice Age was, Senator?

Markey: Again it is climate change. We had a hundred and ten inches of snow in Boston last year with measurements of water 21 degrees warmer than normal off the coast of Massachusetts. This was an unusual event for us. The warming of the ocean intensifies the amount of precipitation when arctic air hits that water. Now if you want to deny that, if you watch these changes are taking place and that they’re having a dramatic impact, you are in the right place.

Steyn: You know what the winters were like at Plymouth Rock, Senator.

Markey: Well here is the thing. We…

Steyn: You don’t know. How long has your family been in Massachusetts?

Markey: We are new arrivals and I have to admit …

Steyn: You should have been there in 1750.

Market: The Irishman began arriving in 1750, so I apologize for being late to the country. And I’ll have to chastise my grandparents for not leaving until the economic conditions in 1902 forced them here but that notwithstanding there is as much consensus that man is causing climate change as there is in Galileo’s original theory. And climate changes causing …

Steyn: Senator, what percentage of climate change is man causing? What percentage of climate change is “anthropogenic”?

Markey: Well, according to the scientists who are in Paris right now — which would feel pretty much the entire base of the building in which we’re in right now — and the number of deniers would still be the ones who …

Curry: Are you aware of a recent survey of the professional members of the American Meteorological Society? When asked the question how much use the recent changes natural versus human caused, 52% of the memberships that it was majority human caused.

Clearly see the world

Comments about this dialogue

That Steyn had the good lines shows that this isn’t a debate so much as performance art. Scientists, like Judith Curry, spoke but few listened. Steyn’s argumentative skills forced Senator Ed Markey to respond, but such exchanges have no more political impact than speeches at a high school debate — providing exchanges that Left and Right cheered and booed.

Markey appeared to have been briefed by activists and didn’t listen to the testimony, so not only does not understand the other side of either the science or policy debates, he does not even know there is another side (he just sees error).  He ignored material that contradicted his belief. He illustrated the “dogma” side of the “Data or Dogma” debate.

Markey sounded two major themes of climate activists. First, conflating the two centuries of warming (the warming before WWII predates substantial anthropogenic CO2) with the largely anthropogenic warming since 1950. For another example, see the Nov 2015 Science of Climate Change presentation by the Canadian government that goes all in on this error.

Second, like many warmists he asserts that “97% of climate scientists” believe whatever he wants them to believe. There are multiple surveys testing agreement with the headline finding of the IPCC’s AR5 (it’s not in the previous ARs) that “It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”  For more about this see…

Update: about the analysis by Mark Steyn

Why did the Republicans invite art critic and political activist Mark Steyn to testify? He sent the debate wildly off course with his deliberately provocative far-right rhetoric (e.g., his islamophobic rant about the people of the Maldive Islands).

In a post at his website Mark Steyn made some perceptive observations about the hearings. He compares them unfavorably with the serious hearings he attended at Canada’s Parliament, and makes several trenchant observations, such as these…

“Americans are the chumps of the planet for putting up with {Senators’ behavior in hearings}. Since the 17th Amendment, senators have been citizen-legislators like any other, and so their contempt for the citizenry who have graciously consented, at their own time and expense to appear before them, demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the relationship.

“… there was some extensive discussion of the satellite record: They have the scientist who created and developed the satellite temperature record sitting at one end of the table: John Christy. This is a remarkable scientific accomplishment. Yet they directed all their questions on the subject to the bloke down the other end – Rear Admiral Titley, who knows no more about the satellite record than I do. This is like inviting Sir Isaac Newton to a hearing on gravity and then only asking questions of Mr Timeserver sitting next to him. ”

“… Unfortunately, the ‘decorum of the Senate’ means that there are never any debates and only performance art …”

As for the suitability of him testifying about technical details of climate science, he says…

“Sad that there’s no longer a place for a Renaissance man…”

Exactly. I don’t want a Renaissance man doing neurosurgery on my son, or testifying about climate science. This is the 21st century, not the 19th (when amateur scientists make many important contributions to science).

Steyn says something I did not realize, but is true and important: “It’s easy for Fabius Maximus to fight vainly the old ennui at this particular bit of performance art…” See my explanation in the comments.

One important correction: Stein says “To Fabius Maximus I’m an “art critic” (no art critic would regard me as such).” I had read only his excellent reviews of music and musicals (years ago). I have updated this post to reflect his other accomplishments.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change. Also see these posts about the campaign for public policy action to fight climate change — how it went wrong and how it can be fixed…



10 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Senate hearing shows why climate policy has gridlocked”

  1. At least Cruz is very intelligent and allowed both sides. Markey and the dems were just ignorant and wanted to end the debate and ignore any disagreeing voices. Very disappointing

    1. David,

      I don’t follow Congressional hearings, but my guess is that the Republican Senators would treat Professor Michael Mann or James Hansen just as poorly as the Democratic Senators treated Curry. This is the way the game is played, with activists on both sides behaving in ways they condemn the other side for doing. I’ve documented many many examples of this.

      We have a bad case of “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to notice the beam in … is in your brother’s eye, and you do not observe the plank that is in your own eye?” It makes dialogue impossible, and compromise to produce public policy doubly impossible. Hence the policy gridlock in this vital area.

    2. Editor,

      I would hope that Republicans would at least engage with a Mann or a Hansen. The tactic of ignoring the experts in the room is a very troubling tactic and indicates that the Democrats recognize their own ignorance and incompetence to engage the real issues with someone who might disagree.

      Even more troubling as you point out is libeling someone and trying to keep them from responding. That is a shameful and demagogic tactic.

      Bottom line is that Cruz has the intelligence to engage the real issues. Markey probably lacks the intelligence to do so.

      1. Dpy,

        “Markey probably lacks the intelligence to do so.”

        I agree with most of what you say. But not that about Markey. I see no evidence that Markey lacks the intelligence to deal with this issue. He is, imo, just another Leftist thoroughly indoctrinated about climate change. Just like those on the Right equally thoroughly indoctrinated with falsehoods about gun control and economics.

        I have write scores of posts documenting the almost identical behavior by both Left and Right. Oddly each side clearly sees these behaviors in their foes, but not in themselves. This is nothing new, of course.

        “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
        — Matthew 7:5.

  2. It speaks very poorly of Curry that she referenced the 2012 AMS study as evidence of even moderate dissent in the scientific community. No self-respecting scientist would present that study with a straight face. While I disagree with Professor Curry’s position on climate change, I’ve also considered her a respectable source, but if she’s going to parrot Heartland propaganda at a formal hearing, I need to revise my opinion.

    1. I should have provided some context to my statement above.

      AMS Executive Director Kevin Seitter’s response to Heartland’s misrepresentation of this study:

      Rebuttal by lead author Neil Stenhouse:

      More detailed overview:

      Basically, Heartland ran with this study and took its findings out of context, but intentionally aped AMS’s logo and domain to fool readers into reaching false conclusions. This is sketchy by any definition. I would expect some variant of wide-eyed innocence from Heartland, but to see this joke present by Curry is dismaying. Perhaps she plans to reference the Oregon Petition at some point, that would really be the cherry on top.

      1. Dan,

        I neither know nor care what the Heartland Institute says. Curry did not cite them, so dragging them into this serves no purpose.

        Curry exactly described the study’s findings. See table one on page six. Please explain why you believe she was incorrect when saying “When asked the question how much use the recent changes natural versus human caused, 52% of the memberships that it was majority human caused.”

        On the other hand, there is a cottage industry of explaining away inconvenient climate research findings. It’s a favorite pastime of activists on both sides, part of their primary m.o. of tossing chaff in the air to confuse people.

  3. A email I sent to Mark Styen’s mailbag

    Thank you for mentioning my post and for the correction to my description of you. I associate your name with wonderful reviews of the music world and political commentary. I’ve updated my post to use Senator Cruz’s description.

    Your comment about my feeling of “ennui at this particular bit of performance art” was spot on. The evidence, both polls and my conversations with scores of Americans about this, shows that many of us are bored with this gridlocked policy debate. It’s been 27 years since James Hansen’s testimony to the Senate about global warming kicked off the campaign for action. I doubt much new has been said for the past several years, key aspects of the debate have detached from reality (as in the basis for all those forecasts of doom), while the participants have become angry and the debate more acrimonious.

    Both sides are running in circles, testing the insight of Alcoholics Anonymous that “insanity is repeating the same action, hoping for a different result.” Let’s draw outside the box to find ways to make some decisions (here’s my recommendation) — since the key participants have proven unable to do so. Then we can move on to deal with other threats from nature. The oceans are dying from pollution and overfishing. We’re unprepared for a hurricane to hit a major city, as Katrina and Sandy proved. Droughts in the southwest have lasted for centuries. And there are others.

    Time is not our friend here. We can do better.

    Best regards,

    Larry Kummer

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