Ted Cruz, senator from Texas and Republican presidential hopeful, raises his gavel at a Senate hearing on climate change he convened on Tuesday. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

With climate negotiations progressing in Paris, Republican presidential candidate and U.S. senator Ted Cruz of Texas kicked off a heated Senate hearing on Tuesday by taunting “global warming alarmists” for ignoring “inconvenient facts.” He asserted, for instance, that there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years, a claim disputed by one of the scientist-witnesses.

“We are being asked as a Congress to act and impose trillions of dollars of cost on humanity” because of a theory “that is not backed up by the facts,” said Cruz, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee. Cruz convened the hearing, entitled “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) rebuked Republicans on climate change, criticizing them for inaction. He cautioned that “a global danger lies in the cascading impacts of climate change,” including temperature increases, sea level rise, more extreme weather, and ocean acidification.

Sen. Markey called the panel, with its four Republican-invited witnesses, “this last redoubt of denial on the planet.”

In Paris, currently, “just about every single scientist in the world, every country in the world is there, all saying the planet is dangerously warming and that the cause of it is human activity,” Markey said. He called the panel, with its four Republican-invited witnesses, “this last redoubt of denial on the planet” and said “the only thing that requires an investigation is why we are holding this hearing in the first place.”

“This hearing was called to inject controversy and skepticism into the issue of climate science and research,” added Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). The event was intended “to cast doubt on the work of many scientists,” including those at American universities and national laboratories, he said.

Witnesses Debate the Science

The hearing featured a panel of five witnesses, four of whom were invited by the Republican majority. Among the witnesses was John Christy, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who said models about climate change do not pass “simple validation tests.”

Christy said that “contrarian proposals essentially have no chance of receiving [federal] funding.”

Christy also argued that “contrarian proposals essentially have no chance of receiving [federal] funding” and called for Congress to fund alternate “red teams” to investigate evidence that the global climate might be less sensitive than widely thought to increasing greenhouse gases and that natural variability, unrelated to human activities, might play a larger role in climate change than scientists currently recognize.

Judith Curry, former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, questioned findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stating that there is “considerable uncertainty and disagreement about the most consequential issues,” including whether warming has been dominated by human causes versus natural variability, how much the planet will warm in the 21st century, and whether warming is dangerous.

The other panelists invited by Republicans were William Happer, a physics professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, and Mark Steyn, a journalist and author of books on climate, threats to Western civilization, and musical theater, whom Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann has sued for defamation.

David Titley, former oceanographer of the U.S. Navy and a retired rear admiral, who was invited by the Democrats on the subcommittee, said he finds the evidence for climate change and the dangers it poses to people and national security too great to ignore. “I’m a simple sailor,” he declared, “but it is hard for me to see the [global warming] pause” that Sen. Cruz claimed has occurred on a chart shown at the hearing.

Titley, who is currently a meteorology professor at Penn State in University Park and director of the university’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, noted that climate models are imperfect and that more research and better observations would be helpful. However, the models “are very useful and they do help us understand the future,” he said.

“If we don’t get serious [about dealing with climate change], we could have a very, very rough ride indeed,” Titley said.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2015), Ted Cruz chairs heated Senate hearing on climate change, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO041317. Published on 10 December 2015.

Correction, 11 December 2015: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Judith Curry’s title. She is former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The article has been updated.

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