Texas Congressman in Copenhagen Dismisses Climate Science: "We don’t have an icecap in Texas"

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Texas Congressman Joe Barton, along with most members of a Republican delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives, on Friday (18 December 2009) in Copenhagen dismissed mounting evidence that climate is rapidly changing, that the impacts already are evident, and that it is being driven by rapidly increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases emissions from human activities.  "We don’t have an icecap in Texas," said Barton, apparently suggesting that melting polar ice was not a concern in his state.

On the same day that President Obama told climate change negotiators in Copenhagen that "this is not fiction, it is science," Republican members of a delegation from the U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, held a press briefing and most argued quite the opposite.  The panel included James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin), Joe Barton (Texas), Fred Upton (Michigan), Shelly Moore Capito (West Virginia), John Sullivan (Oklahoma) and Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee). 

When asked by a journalist if they "believe in anthropogenic climate change," none of the representatives clearly said they did.  Referring to arguments that climate change science is conclusive, Congressman Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin) retorted "Prove it to us!"   Likewise, Blackburn said she did not believe it was "settled science."

Congressman John Sullivan (Oklahoma) said the negotiations were based on "science that is fraudulent."  He claimed that "there is a culture of corruption that is going through the scientific community" and that "we certainly should not be basing any treaty on corrupt data." 

Sensenbrenner, Sullivan and Blackburn, all members of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, expressed similar sentiments in a hearing several weeks earlier.  See our posting, In Congressional Hearing, Administration Officials Respond to E-Mail Controversy (7 December 2009).

Two representatives, Shelley Moore Capito and Fred Upton, did not deny the science -- but evaded a clear answer to the question.  Upton said that emissions could be lowered “and I think the world will be a lot better off if we can do that – and we can do that without cap and trade.”  Capito expressed support for Upton's position. When a second journalist later pressed Upton and Capito for a clear and unambiguous answer to the earlier question about whether they "believe in anthropogenic climate change," both again made evasive statements.

Joe Barton of Texas was the most loquacious.  “This whole process is based on the premise that mankind through emissions of CO2 is causing the planet to warm at an unsustainable rate. That methodology, that theory, has never been independently analyzed or tested by any scientific group," Barton incorrectly asserted. "If there is anything that comes out of this conference in my opinion that is worthwhile, it should be the political leadership of the world... begin to question the theory .”

"I do not believe the theory of anthropogenic climate change has been proven and...I think its going to very difficult to prove it," he said. 

Climate Change and Texas


At one point, Clayton McCleskey of the Dallas Morning News addressed Barton, asking: 

“....the Texas state climatologist told me just yesterday – this is the guy appointed by then-Governor Bush – that for Texas, global warming is an issue and that we should’nt be arguing about the science but arguing about the solutions. I was just wondering what kind of solutions you would see and are you for lowering carbon emissions.”

Barton responded: 

“I respect the Texas climatologist, but it's hot in Texas in the summer , and it's cold in Texas in the Winter , and I can’t tell that that’s going to change much one way or the other. We don’t have an icecap in Texas, last I spoke. We do have icestorms sometimes. Before we make a policy decision, I think it’s a fair question to try to develop a theory that appears to more fit the facts than this theory appears to be doing.”

In fact, climate change already has come to Texas and notwithstanding Barton's remarks, it is evident in rising temperatures in both the summer and the winter -- and annually.  See the figures below.

Below: Winter Temperature Trend in Texas since 1959

Winter (Dec-Feb) 1901 - 2000 Average = 48.04 degF
Winter (Dec-Feb) 1959 - 2009 Trend = 0.60 degF / Decade

Below: Summer Temperature Trend in Texas since 1959
Summer (Jun-Aug) 1901 - 2000 Average = 81.36 degF
Summer (Jun-Aug) 1959 - 2009 Trend = 0.22 degF / Decade

Below: Annual Temperatures in Texas since 1959
Annual 1901 - 2000 Average = 65.04 degF
Annual 1958 - 2008 Trend = 0.29 degF / Decade

Though Barton dismisses Arctic changes  as irrelevant for Texas, climate change in that region has very serious implications for Texans.  The melting of ice in Greenland is feeding the sea level rise that will pose a direct and growing threat to low-lying coastal areas of Texas during this century and beyond.  There also is growing evidence that climate change in the Arctic is affecting atmospheric circulation in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere -- with impacts on storm tracks and precipitation not just for Texas but for the rest of the U.S. and other countries.

These and other implications of Arctic climate change are documented in the recent WWF report, Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications (PDF, 10.3MB). For a recent discussion of the connection between Arctic climate change and weather changes in the northern hemisphere, see The Climate is Changing: The Arctic Dipole Emerges (Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog, 11 December 2009)

McCleskey reported on the exchange in Rep. Joe Barton: No agreement? No problem, Dallas Morning News, 18 December 2009.  According to McCleskey, the Texas state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon told him that "C02 and greenhouse gases are uncontrovertibly tipping the scales toward a warmer a climate." Furthermore, Robert Harriss of the Houston Advanced Research Center told McCleskey:

"It's obvious to me that the large majority of scientists believe climate change is a serious risk and compelling problem along with other risks, and we should begin to craft policies. I think the scienece is convincing. Climate change is a very significant risk."

Despite the evidence and the views of experts within his own state, Barton persists.  “There has never really been an independent assessment of the methodology or of the data that goes into making some of these conclusions . I think it is extremely disingenuous to expect the political establishment that was assembled here today to take at total face value conclusions and assumptions based on the methodology that’s been so far presented. As for who should do that independent assessment, there are any number of respected institutions -- the National Academy of Sciences, I’m sure there are international bodies...[I]f you get credible scientists who have an open mind ... I’d  accept their conclusions."

In fact, the National Academy of Sciences has assessed and reported many times on climate change.  See Clmate Change at the National Academies for access to that material.  It includes the G8+5 Academies’ joint statement: Climate change and the transformation of energy technologies for a low carbon future.  In the joint statement, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences joins the academies of the other G8 countries, plus those of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa, in calling on governments to "seize all opportunities" to address climate change that "is happening even faster than previously estimated."  And it says "[t]he need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable." [emphasis added]

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