By William S. Becker
Now that Democrats will control the House of Representatives, curious people want to know: Can the new majority do anything about global climate change?
The answer is yes it can. Legislation would be tough. In the current political climate, the Senate is ready to defeat, and the President will veto, any climate bill the House produces. However, the new House can raise the temperature for Congress to finally act on global warming.
There is new urgency for a federal response. The world’s climate scientists reported last month that nations have only 12 years to make radical changes in energy use. Ice core samples show the concentration of climate-altering carbon pollution in the atmosphere today is higher than it has been in at least 800,000 years, and it’s still rising.
While Washington fiddles, climate change is increasing the intensity of fires, floods, hurricanes, heat waves and sea-level rise. More Americans are at greater risk of injury or death and more property is being destroyed. States, localities and businesses have stepped into the leadership void, but the necessary scope and speed of climate action requires a federal response, too.
One goal of the new House majority can be to change the political climate in Washington so that Congress begins closing the gap between what the American people want and what Congress has been willing to deliver. Any number of reputable polls have found that large majorities of Americans accept that climate change is underway and want federal action. Large majorities consistently favor renewable energy over oil, gas and coal.
In fact, while the perception is that the nation is deeply split, researchers at Stanfordconclude that “Americans don’t realize how much they agree about global warming.” In 20 years of surveys, the researchers find “strikingly large majorities of Americans have agreed about whether global warming has been happening, whether it is a threat, whether it merits government attention, what policy approaches are appealing, and what policy approaches should be avoided.”
For starters, the House could lay the groundwork for congressional action with a series of high-visibility public hearings on topics like these:
The origins of climate doubt. Bad-mouthing climate science has been a political strategy many Republicans have used since communications consultant Frank Luntz recommended it in 2002 to keep the GOP from looking bad on the environment. An example is President Trump’s recent claim that scientists “have a very big political agenda”.
What science tells us now. Dr. James Hansen and a panel of U.S. climate scientists could brief the House on the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other research. With prescient testimony in 1988, it was Hansen who gave Congress its first warning that global climate change is underway.
Unprecedented disasters. Victims and first responders from weather disasters could testify about the unprecedented intensity of these events. An expert in the emerging field of “attribution science” can explain that scientists now could tell how much influence climate change is having on these disasters.
What the American people are saying. Prominent public opinion researchers could brief the House on what the latest polls are showing. Also, the leaders of several conservative, libertarian and faith-based organizations that support clean energy and climate action could explain why.
The cost of doing nothing. Four years ago, the White House released a report that said the costs of mitigating climate change go up 40% for each decade of delayed action. Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that climate change is costing the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars each year. The GAO recommended in vain that the White House make “appropriate federal responses”. Experts from within the Trump Administration who issued the latest National Climate Assessment could brief House members on where the risks of climate change are greatest in the U.S.
Public hearings like these could set the stage for more concrete congressional action, dispel the misinformation the public has been fed over the years, and make it harder for President Trump, the Senate and candidates in 2020 to avoid the reality of global warming. The American people are losing lives and property and taxpayer spending is going up because of climate change, and it’s going to get much worse.