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House Science Chair Smith's Expired Climate Arguments in Wall Street Journal

04/27/2015 05:03 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015
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In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Lamar Smith (R-TX) claims to want to "focus on good science," yet he fails to substantiate his claims with solid evidence and relies instead on debunked contrarian talking points long past their expiration date. While it's common for climate contrarians to repeat myths, despite being corrected, Smith's column is notable for its use of particularly old arguments. For example, his criticisms focus on the Fourth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which came out in 2008, even though the IPCC released its Fifth Assessment Report in 2013.

Though recently the Wall Street Journal has been running more policy-focused op-eds (that also need correction), this piece demonstrates that while the rest of the world has accepted the reality of human-made climate change, there are those who remain in denial. Representative Smith should know better than to rely on outdated science, as his position as chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology suggests he should be up-to-date on the latest research.

His op-ed is a collection of debunked claims, so we'll look at his main points:

  • It's hot and getting hotter -- Warming has continued, with the last 15 years having 14 of the hottest years on record. Smith claims that there's been "lack of global warming," in spite of the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record.
  • Climate change impacts extreme weather -- There is a solid connection between global warming and many types of extreme weather. Senator Smith selectively quoted the IPCC's Extreme Weather report, ignoring the portion that says "A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events." For example, coastal flood risks increase as sea levels rise, heat waves become more intense and frequent as temperatures warm, and drought risk increases as temperatures climb, like we see in California.
  • The IPCC is scientifically conservative -- In the scientific community, the IPCC is considered a very conservative organization, the opposite of Smith's charges of alarmism. One paper described it as "erring on the side of least drama" when it comes to the projections of future change. Another paper surveyed sea level rise experts, and concluded that the IPCC's sea level rise projections are lower than what experts expect. When it comes to the IPCC's projections on renewable energy use, that too has been criticized by academics as being too conservative. So while Smith suggests it's an alarmist organization, actual scientists are concerned that it's too subdued.
  • Climate policy brings health, economic benefits -- Finally, in classic WSJ fashion, Smith makes the reliable industry-defending claim that environmental regulations will crash the economy while not actually achieving anything. Like his other points, Smith is also wrong about the Clean Power Plan. Not only will it provide climate and health benefits of up to $93 billion per year by 2030, it will also bring electricity prices down by roughly 8 percent according to the EPA, and create a quarter million jobs. Though he is right to point out that this alone won't stop climate change, his argument is the equivalent of saying that a runner's first step won't bring him across the finish line.

Overall, this piece shows that climate contrarians are severely lacking in scientific support for their resistance to regulations. At this point, the overwhelming body of credible science doesn't support their contention, so they have to dig up talking points from years past. While the science marches on with increasing certainty, contrarians are struggling to remain relevant. As a result, expired arguments are served up, with the hopes that no one will know they've since been discarded by the scientific community.