Sanders on the Mark

04/17/2013 01:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

Senator Bernie Sanders got it right when he said that the confirmation hearing on Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was not about her qualifications. Rather, he declared, the hearing was really about the validity of global warming as a legitimate concern.

Sanders, an independent lawmaker from Vermont, did not get any argument from the committee's Republicans. They raised no objection even when he accused them of using the hearing to debunk global warming -- if it exists at all -- as nothing more than natural variation, and certainly not human induced.

Sanders did not mince words. He said Republicans on the panel "don't want to listen to the leading scientists of the country who tell us global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that the global community faces, and who ask whether we are going to address it in a serious manner."

Instead, Sanders intoned, "We have Senator [James] Inhofe, R-Okla., who claims global warming is a hoax perpetrated by environmental extremists, Al Gore, the United Nations, and the Hollywood elite." Inhofe even quipped that he would "add to the list,, George Soros, Michael Moore, and a few others."

Republicans spent most of the hearing complaining about what they perceived to be the EPA's lack of transparency, a backdoor way of attacking the agency's credibility on global warming and other environmental controversies. But when the Republicans directly raised the issue of climate change, they held true to form.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama had little to say about McCarthy. He devoted most of his time to a magazine article that he inaccurately claimed refuted humans' significant contribution to global warming. The Alabama legislator produced a chart showing the global temperature level was relatively flat the last 10 years, despite major increases in greenhouse gas emissions. What he overlooked was that the global temperature trend over the past century displayed a steady upward climb, and eight of the past 10 years were the hottest on record.

As for the lack of an exact correlation between temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions, Sessions was evidently unaware of a recent study that addressed the paradox. Scientists found the air temperature to be buffered by the sea, which was absorbing the bulk of the greenhouse gas emissions. That is small consolation since the oceans will eventually reach a saturation point. Then we will have highly acidic oceans with widespread marine life mortality, and an atmosphere no longer shielded from accelerated temperature rise.

A skeptical Sessions also seemed uninformed about another study in which scientists were able to calculate that the past 10 summers in the Arctic were warmer than any in the last 600 years.

Republicans at the confirmation hearing did not want to appear dumb by assailing the lengthy past record of McCarthy, who served both Democratic and Republican regimes with distinction. But the senators proceeded to look even worse by rejecting the overwhelming scientific consensus that a warming planet demands immediate attention.