In an op-ed in the Washington Post this week, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chair of the House Science and Technology Committee and a noted climate change skeptic, offered a laundry list of reasons why people who are worried about climate change and fighting plans like the Keystone XL pipeline are hurting American policy and the country's economy.
Predictably, climate change believers were quick to deliver counterpoints. Here are three of Smith's main points, along with the reactions of his critics.
(And for context: 97 percent of climatologists say global warming is directly linked to human-made carbon emissions.)
1. Smith says climate change is not linked to extreme weather patterns.
In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama said that extreme weather events have become "more frequent and intense," and he linked Superstorm Sandy to climate change.
But experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have told the New York Times that climate change had nothing to do with Superstorm Sandy. This is underscored by last year's IPCC report stating that there is "high agreement" among leading experts that trends in weather disasters, floods, tornados and storms cannot be attributed to climate change. While these claims may make for good political theater, their effect on recent public policy choices hurts the economy. [Washington Post]
Smith's critics counter that of course climate change is linked to extreme weather patterns — it even says so in that IPCC report. An excerpt:
There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic influences, including increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures at the global scale. There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale. It is likely that there has been an anthropogenic influence on increasing extreme coastal high water due to an increase in mean sea level. [IPCC]
2. Smith says the Keystone pipeline would not harm the environment.
The State Department has found that the pipeline will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment and no significant effect on the climate. Recent expert testimony before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology confirms this finding. In fact, even if the pipeline is approved and is used at maximum capacity, the resulting increase in carbon dioxide emissions would be a mere 12 one-thousandths of 1 percent (0.0012 percent). There is scant scientific or environmental justification for refusing to approve the pipeline, a project that the State Department has also found would generate more than 40,000 U.S. jobs. [Washington Post]
Smith's critics say that not only would Keystone hurt the environment, it wouldn't be nearly as good for jobs as Smith suggests.
In a thorough take-down of Smith's op-ed, Think Progress's Ryan Kornowski argues that what Smith says "just isn't true."
The Environmental Protection Agency submitted a public comment on the State Department's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, finding that, among other things, State needs to make revisions on the true impact of the project's carbon emissions and about how dirty tar sands oil truly is. Additionally, tar sands oil extraction is not inevitable because transporting it by rail is not feasible — the pipeline is really their only option. Smith's claims about 40,000 jobs are also quite inflated. The project would create just 35 permanent jobs, along with 51 coal plants' worth of carbon dioxide each year. [Think Progress]
3. Smith says global temperatures haven't risen in the last 15 years.
Contrary to model predictions, data released in October from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit show that global temperatures have held steady over the past 15 years, despite rising greenhouse gas emissions. [Washington Post]
Smith's critics note that warming trends are clear and undeniable. Here's Climate Nexus:
Warming has continued to increase, and models have predicted warming accurately. Current atmospheric temperatures are on the lower end of projections but still within the bounds of variation predicted by modeling. Furthermore, ocean warming has continued unabated, and sea level rise and Arctic ice melt have exceeded estimates. To say that "global" warming has stopped or stalled is simply wrong. [Climate Nexus]