Final hearing of the House global warming committee: “a fight that is far from over”

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Dr. Kenneth Green, Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard L. Kauffman, Dr. Peter Gleick, and Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn/Select Committee

In the final hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming on December 1, witnesses Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, Dr. Peter Gleick, Richard L. Kauffman, Dr. Kenneth Green, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. testified on climate change, energy security, and national security.  Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) framed these interconnected issues as problems that, despite changes in political priorities, “will be central to the health and survival of our planet and our economy for decades and centuries to follow”—they are not going away.  General Wesley Clark was scheduled to testify, but was not able to appear in person.

Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a member of the Center for Naval Analysis Military Advisory Board, the group that referred to climate change as a “threat multiplier” for geopolitical instabilities.  Admiral McGinn referenced the potential for climate change to create “more frequent, intense and widespread natural and humanitarian disasters” that will strain military resources and readiness.

In his written testimony, Admiral McGinn cited a number of scenarios that could come to pass if we fail to address the climate problem: rising humanitarian crises and conflicts in Africa exacerbated by drought, food insecurity, and extreme weather; social conflict and northern migration in Latin American driven by food shortages and land degradation; millions of refugees driven northward by intense coastal typhoon damage in Bangladesh; and external and internal unrest in Asia compounded by unreliable water supplies from the shrinking Himalayan glaciers.

“Climate-driven disruption is such a viable threat that the Pentagon has already started to prepare contingencies for such scenarios,” Admiral McGinn said in his written testimony.

Dr. Peter Gleick, an internationally recognized expert on water and the co-founder of the Pacific Institute, focused on the sound scientific basis for human-caused climate change.

“There is growing evidence from the real world that climate changes are accelerating faster than we originally feared and that impacts—already appearing—will be more widespread and severe than expected.  This makes the arguments against taking actions against climate change not just wrong, but dangerous,” Dr. Gleick said in his written testimony.

When asked by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) about the most successful way to have a dialogue with those who are skeptical of climate science, Dr. Gleick said that he finds it effective to find out the basis of their skepticism, and that it’s useful to divorce the notions of scientific uncertainty from uncertainty about policy solutions.  “People are willing to be convinced by the science when they understand that there’s still plenty to debate on the policy side,” said Dr. Gleick.

The Republican minority witness, Dr. Kenneth Green, is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  He said that while climate change represents a “real but modest threat,” we don’t have the technologies needed to make the shift off of fossil fuels, and should abandon mitigation in favor of building energy and climate resilience.  Dr. Green also argued that energy efficiency gains are an economic fallacy, because “firms are not so stupid as to leave real potential gains from efficiency uncaptured.”

Richard Kauffman, Chairman of the Board of Levi Strauss & Co., disagreed with Dr. Green, saying that there are many market failures that can be addressed to improve energy efficiency.  He noted that for many businesses, the substantial upfront costs needed to invest in energy efficiency make it difficult to finance, which the government could address by providing a more effective financing structure.  In addition, our incentive structures have consistently put innovation ahead of deployment for renewable energy technologies, creating a nearly insurmountable barrier to cost competitiveness, Mr. Kauffman said.

In his written testimony, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of the Waterkeeper Alliance, stressed the importance of the Clean Air Act and and its positive impact on public health, and the need to defend its ability to regulate GHGs.

General Wesley Clark, US Army (Ret.) and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe 1997-2000, in his written testimony referenced his experience analyzing the energy crisis of the 1970s for the Pentagon, remarking that despite repeated commitments to “energy independence” by politicians of both parties, the issues remain much the same today.  Echoing Admiral McGinn, General Clark said bluntly that our dependence on foreign oil has distorted our foreign policy and financed corrupt regimes that support terrorism, “and then, we ask our military to organize, train and equip our forces, and deploy to fight, or provide secure access to those petroleum resources.”

In closing, Chairman Markey reflected on the legacy of the committee:

Someday, our children and grandchildren will read the record of the Select Committee. Maybe they will watch our hearings on YouTube. They will see a respectful and rigorous debate and an unprecedented understanding of the problem. Whether or not they see action taken on the solutions remains to be seen.  But trust me, it is a fight that is far from over. A fight they will most certainly be watching.

Earlier CSW posts:

Report from a conference on Climate Change, State Resilience and Global Security

Pakistani ambassador: “I urge leaders to pay attention to what climate change means for people”

Climate scientists tell House committee: We know the risk, now it’s up to policymakers to act

At House hearing, prominent scientists reaffirm climate science’s broad knowledge, urgency to act

Markey presses coal CEOs on climate change denialism, future of the industry in a low carbon economy

Rep. Sensenbrenner projects “fascism” and “fraud” onto scientists, is rebutted at hearing

Holdren and Lubchenco warn Congress of climate disruption, call for emissions cuts and preparedness

Federal climate change adaptation strategy needed, say Rep. Markey, hearing witnesses, GAO report

House Select Committee to examine aviation’s impact on global warming

House global warming committee hearing on administration’s delayed decision on polar bear protection

Congressman Markey Queries Federal Aviation Administrator on Failure to Consider Climate Change

Congressional investigation into science editing of Smithsonian Arctic climate exhibit

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