Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said scientific debate should not be "dumbed down" by politics at an event at the University of Chicago Tuesday. He then proceeded to make a whole lot of inaccurate statements about the state of climate science.
"Do you believe that climate change exists, and that it's a man-made problem?" former Obama adviser David Axelrod asked Paul at the event, which was held at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics (via the Washington Post).
"I think that scientific debate should not be dumbed down to politics. I think this debate has become so dumbed down beyond belief," said Paul. "The Earth is 4.54 [billion] or 4.6 billion years old. Anybody who's ever studied any geology knows that over periods of time, long periods of time, that the climate changes, mmkay? I'm not sure anybody exactly knows why. But we have twenty-, thirty-, hundred-thousand sort of year cycles that go on with the climate. It has been much warmer than it is today. We have real data [for] about 100 years. So somebody tell me what 100 years data is in an Earth that is 4.6 billion years old? My guess is that the conclusions you make from that are not conclusive."
Actual climate scientists would disagree. They would say that we have a pretty good understanding of historic temperatures thanks to a variety of lines of evidence, that those records indicate that the climate is warming a whole lot faster than it has in the past, and that warming is happening independently of natural, cyclical changes.
Paul said that he is "against pollution" and that "we should minimize pollution," but then continued his argument that climate change is not as bad as scientists say it is.
"Most of the models have been changed within the last five years. They all predicted, you know, the poor Statue of Liberty was going to drown in 100 years, and the polar bears and all this stuff. And that alarmist kind of stuff really, I think, detracts from the case that we shouldn't pollute."
Paul may have been watching "The Day After Tomorrow" rather than something that involved actual science on sea level rise. And while it is true that models have changed over the years, that is exactly what you hope would happen as the science advances.
Axelrod asked Paul about New York City's investing a large amount of money to improve its subway system after it suffered damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
"But there's fewer storms in the last couple years than there've been," replied Paul. "Someone is an ignoramus who would say, 'Oh, we've had three hurricanes this year, this proves that somehow the climate is warming. The Earth's 4.5 billion years old. And you're going to say we've had four hurricanes and so that proves a theory? No."
But the issue isn't the total number of storms. The science is inconclusive when it comes to the possible impact of climate change on the frequency of storms in the Atlantic Ocean. But what scientists do anticipate is an increase in the intensity and rainfall from future storms due to climate change.
The bigger issue currently facing places like New York City, however, is not the frequency of severe storms, but the fact that sea levels have already risen an average of 8 inches since 1880 due to global warming. That has nearly doubled the probability of flooding like what the city saw during Sandy.
Moreover, no one is relying on the frequency of hurricanes as evidence of climate change. They don't need to, since plenty of other lines of evidence have demonstrated as much. Instead, scientists like those at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expect climate change to make already hazardous storms even more so, and they suggest that those hazards are among the reasons to be concerned about what human activity is doing to the atmosphere.
Paul insisted, however, that he is not saying whether "the theory" of climate change "is right or wrong." But mocking concern about the issue is nothing new for him.