Agreeing on the problem, if not the solution

Despite the very different views of the majority and minority parties in the Senate, there was in fact a fair degree of agreement among the witnesses at today’s hearing on climate science and local adaptation.

During the climate science portion of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, both the majority and minority witnesses agreed that the Earth has warmed over the past 120 years. With the recent publication of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project by former skeptic Richard Muller, there are now four (NOAA, NASA and Hadley are the others) major global temperature records that are in agreement that the Earth has warmed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years.

The question of whether humans are to blame by producing increased heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions was answered with an emphatic yes by the two majority witnesses. (The minority witness left it as an open question.)

Nor was there consensus about what to do about the documented warming. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the panel, fears government actions like an energy tax could harm individuals and the economy. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., put into the record reports detailing savings that come from increased energy efficiency and noted the costs of not acting.

Boxer seized on minority witness Margo Thorning’s descriptions of “no-regrets” adaptation in the business community, such as developing more drought-resistant seeds, to prepare for current impacts and potential future risks.

Thorning, chief economist for the American Council for Capital Formation, noted that some companies, such as Entergy, are even doing more. Entergy recently started a $74 million  project to harden coastal infrastructure at risk from sea level rise. 

Private companies and some state and local governments have taken notice of climate change and are leading the way on the implementation of common-sense adaptation strategies that reduce costs today and protect against future risks.  Boxer said she hoped the federal government would follow businesses in implementing a “no-regrets strategy.”

While climate change can be a contentious subject in Washington, today’s hearing was an important reminder that there is some common ground. It established that the Earth is warming, and that cost-effective “no regrets” adaptation measures should be taken to cope with climate change that is already upon us.

That’s a start, but it’s hardly enough.  Even with ambitious adaptation efforts, we will face growing risks – and growing costs – unless we get serious about dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s good to see the Senate re-engage on the science of climate change.  Let’s hope Congress turns soon to the question of real solutions.

Dan Huber is a Science & Policy Fellow at C2ES.