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November 1, 2010 / Dan Whipple

Off Topic: The (new) Congress and climate change

There was a distressing story in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday about the intended methods the newly Republican-dominated Congress would use in furtherance of its policies on climate change.

I use the word “policies” in the loosest sense. I used to think that people got into politics because they were interested in governing, in solving problems, in making a greater nation. But the Times story says that the new Republican majority doesn’t really have a policy on this important question, but is more interested in conducting a witch hunt on the scientists who are doing research on the issue.

Rep. Dan Issa (R.-Calif.) wants to investigate the work of climate scientists whom he claims have manipulated their data.

Never mind that this particular witch hunt has already been conducted on two continents. There have been at least three investigations into this alleged manipulation. All have shown decisively and conclusively that there is no manipulation, no coverup, no fundamental scientific issue of any kind.

Climate change is real. One doesn’t even need to consult the scientific models to see it. It is evident in nature, from shrinking glaciers, disappearing ice sheets, changing patterns of animal habitation and migration, earlier and later seasonal events … and so on. There is—and there should be—serious and thoughtful disagreement about what to do about it. But hauling up scientists into a kangaroo court because a congressman or two is too dense to understand the issues, is too lazy even to examine the evidence that’s all around him, is the worst form of McCarthyism. This will paralyze science, paralyze policy, and lead us all to becoming a weaker and worse nation.

Furthermore, the hysteria about overregulation—at least in regards to climate policy—is laughably out of place. The federal government under both Democrats and Republicans has failed miserably to take the leadership on this issue, leaving it to Europe, even to (gasp!) China and the developing world. Any issue that can’t be bombed or tortured into submission seems to completely flummox our congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle. The U.S. failures on climate policy make up a near-perfect case study in why the United States is slipping from its perch as the world’s number one power.

Virtually all of the creative thinking on climate change is being done at the state and local level, or by the private sector. To take just one example, Swiss Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, is deeply concerned about climate change. This is for a reason even someone as thick as Rep. Issa should be able to understand—it could cost them a lot of money. They see the destructive evidence all around them, in the increase in weather-related disasters which are lifting insurance claims to unprecedented levels.

This poverty of U.S. policy discourse on this and other policy issues is epitomized by what Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell told the National Journal the other day. Does he want to make the nation stronger? Does he want peace in our time? Does he want business freed of restraint? Does he want to to the United States to world leadership role it enjoyed before the Bush administration destroyed it? No. “The single most important thing we want to achieve,” McConnell said,” is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

This isn’t policy. It isn’t even conservative. It’s simply stupid.

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