Climate Change News

Fireworks at Hearing on Climate Change and National Security

A Republican committee member hits former secretary of state John Kerry with an ill-informed charge of pseudoscience.

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The 9 April hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was supposed to focus on “The Need for Leadership to Combat Climate Change and Protect National Security.”

Indeed, the witnesses, former secretary of state John Kerry and former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, testified about the impact of extreme weather and sea level rise on military bases and readiness; they warned that climate change could increase mass migration in regions already facing economic, political, and social stress; and they emphasized the scientific consensus on and broad U.S. military recognition of the threat of climate change.

Kerry and Hagel also castigated the White House for proposing in February a draft executive order to establish a National Security Council (NSC) panel or committee led by a climate change skeptic to reassess climate science.

However, despite the weightiness of the witnesses’ testimony, some Republicans displayed partisan and sometimes ill-informed bickering.

Charge of Pseudoscience

Committee member Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), for example, may have thought he was going in for the kill in questioning Kerry. Instead, Massie showed his confusion about Kerry’s education, and some audience members laughed at Massie’s accusation that Kerry has “a pseudoscience degree” and “is here pushing pseudoscience.”

Here’s the exchange:

Massie: “Isn’t it true you have a science degree from Yale?”

Kerry: “Bachelor of arts degree.”

Massie: “Is it a political science degree?”

Kerry: “Yes, political science.”

Massie: “So how do you get a bachelor of arts in science?”

Kerry: “It’s a liberal arts education and degree.”

Massie: “So it’s not really science. I think it’s somewhat appropriate that somebody with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience in front of our committee today.”

Kerry: “Are you serious?”

Arguing About the Green New Deal

Republicans didn’t stop there. Saying that the climate is always changing, Massie claimed, “There is not a climate denier in this room, but I think there are some photosynthesis deniers, some natural climate deniers.”

The committee’s ranking Republican member, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), charged that “for the first 3 months of the 116th Congress, the Democrats’ focus has been on one thing: attacking the president.”

Also, a number of Republicans attacked as expensive government overreach the Green New Deal, an ambitious proposed congressional resolution to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, among other goals. The resolution was introduced in the House by committee member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and in the Senate by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

“There are a lot of different proposals about how to proceed [about climate change]. I don’t know that any of them are coming from your party or your side of the aisle,” Kerry countered. “In proposing what she has proposed together with Sen. Markey, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has in fact offered more leadership in 1 day or in 1 week than President Trump has in his lifetime on this subject.”

Concerns About the Possible NSC Committee

Kerry and Hagel, however, kept returning to their concerns about a possible NSC committee. Although the committee’s exact form has not yet been made public, according to the draft order, the committee would include William Happer, a prominent climate change skeptic who is deputy assistant to the president for emerging technologies. The draft order notes that the committee would advise the president through Happer.

“Just the other month, we learned that the White House is planning to convene a task force, apparently working behind closed doors, to determine whether climate change is a national security threat,” Kerry, a former Democratic senator who served under President Barack Obama, testified. Kerry, Hagel, and more than 50 other senior retired military and national security leaders last month publicly opposed the plan in a letter to President Donald Trump.

“We already know what the outcome [of the task force] will be: It’s a council of doubters and deniers convened to undo a 26-year-old factual consensus that climate change is a national security threat multiplier. It’s a scheme to pretend there are two sides to an issue already long since settled.”

Kerry added, “Instead of convening a kangaroo court, the president might want to talk with the educated adults he once trusted enough to fill his top national security positions.”

Kerry noted, for instance, that Trump’s former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, had told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.”

A Motive Behind the NSC Panel?

“One would have to suspect a motive behind the effort to put together this panel,” said Hagel, a former Republican senator who served as secretary of defense under Obama. “If the motive [were] transparent, clear, tried to find out what we should do in this country about this issue, based on science, based on facts, based on what we do know today, then why wouldn’t you do it transparently? Why wouldn’t you open it up and involve everybody and want others’ opinion?”

Hagel said that “if this panel were created in good faith, under the legal requirements of a federal advisory committee, I am confident that the weight of scientific evidence and present-day realities would confirm what I and other national security leaders have found: Climate change is a real and present threat to our national security which most likely will get worse.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Fireworks at hearing on climate change and national security, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO120703. Published on 10 April 2019.
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