Congressional discussions over climate change have reached such a low point that during this week’s House hearing on the national security risks of climate change, former Secretary of State John Kerry, who was testifying, broke down and just asked his Republican questioner, “Are you serious?”
Kerry's incredulous question was in response to Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, the GOP star of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, which also featured testimony from former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Kerry's and Hagel's testimonies were followed by several hours of, at times, excrutiating questioning from committee members.
Republicans made a big show of the fact that Massie has an engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The conflict with Kerry arose when Massie tried to undermine Kerry's testimony on climate change because he has a political science degree from Yale.
Massie said, “I think it’s somewhat appropriate that somebody with a pseudoscience degree is here pushing pseudoscience in front of our committee today.”
If science degrees are important to Massie, he must have somehow missed the thousands of climate scientists around the world who have studied, published, tweeted, marched, and repeated that climate change is real, caused by humans, and having major impacts now.
You are an MIT grad. This is ridiculous and you have made a fool of yourself.— DrDinD #Kamala2020 (@DrDinD) April 10, 2019
For example, @MichaelEMann is a real scientist, as are the ~97% of climate scientists who consider climate change real, anthropogenic, and a possible existential threat. https://t.co/3vuI2pNSCe
During this hearing, Massie wasn’t alone in displaying bizarre logic to attack science and the reality of climate change. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) apparently thought holding up a fossil disproved that humans are causing climate change.
“Climate change has been changing all through the life of this planet. I’ve got a fossil right here from Western Wyoming — a desert — but that once was under an ocean,” he said.
That was the sum total of his argument.
Not to be outdone, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) took issue with Kerry’s statement about global warming making existing weather events more extreme by noting: “I remember growing up and having hurricanes in Florida.”
It all led to Secretary Kerry at one point expressing his frustration to committee chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), saying, “Mr. Chairman, this is just not a serious conversation.”
And it was not when Republicans were part of it. However, when Hagel and Kerry both spoke, they made clear the point that climate change is a real national security threat and requires action. Meanwhile, the Republicans on the committee indicated they intend to do nothing but continue a long history of delay and denial on climate change.
Hagel and Kerry Agree: Climate Change Threatens National Security
Hagel and Kerry spent their time delivering a sober analysis of the risks climate change poses to national security — a position which they repeatedly stressed during the hearing. “Climate change is already affecting national security,” said Kerry.
Kerry also noted in his opening statement that this has been the position of every federal administration for the last 28 years. He pointed to the first Bush administration, which said in 1992, that climate change was “already contributing to political conflict.”
“We don’t need to wait for more sophisticated climate models to project the security consequences of climate change,” Hagel said in his opening statement. “The impacts of climate change are clearly evident today.”
Both Hagel and Kerry spoke extensively about the current and future threats posed by a changing climate and had plenty of examples to make the case.
Among the many threats, Hagel discussed rising sea levels, extreme weather, and the lack of military readiness. Kerry raised the issues of climate migration, global pandemics, water scarcity, and extreme weather's current contribution to radicalism, which he said would continue to create instability that would be “manna from heaven for extremists.”
Perhaps the best single example of how climate change is impacting security in the U.S. can be found at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. This base — the largest American military base — already is dealing with flooding and sea level rise. At one point in the hearing, former defense secretary Hagel mentioned the need to potentially relocate the base in the future due to sea level rise.
5/ This is how future rising sea levels will affect the Norfolk military base. pic.twitter.com/efWy24p0oa— InsideClimate News (@insideclimate) October 28, 2017
And yet when Republicans in the hearing had a chance to respond to this rather alarming fact, they spent that time mostly ridiculing the idea that any of this should even be discussed.
Gas Is a 'Bridge Fuel,' Secretary Kerry?
John Kerry was a strong advocate for dealing with climate change throughout the hearing and acknowledged the significant strides freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has already taken to advance the issue in her short congressional tenure.
Sec. John Kerry: “Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has in fact offered more leadership in one day or in one week than President Trump has in his lifetime on [climate].”— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 9, 2019
Honored and humbled.
Thank you, @JohnKerry. https://t.co/Z2jPDMbuR1
However, Kerry also proceeded to repeatedly champion a supposed climate change solution espoused by the fossil fuel industry and did so using industry talking points, referring to natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to climate-friendly energy sources.
While saying that natural gas would be “a component of our energy mix for some time to come,” Kerry justified this position with a flawed argument for gas.
“Gas gives us a 50 percent gain over the other fossil fuels in the reduction of emissions, so it’s a step forward,” he said.
Kerry’s take, which compares how “clean” natural gas is compared to other fossil fuels, is true when simply comparing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power to the newest gas power plants. However, that limited comparison excludes the ways natural gas production, and its potent methane contributions, are adding to climate change.
The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to renewable sources has been debunked repeatedly. And as methane flaring, leaking, and venting in the fracked oil and gas supply chain continue to increase rapidly, the climate impacts of fracked gas can be similar or worse than other fossil fuels.
Kerry and Hagel adeptly explained the serious national security threats posed by climate change. However, calling natural gas part of a long-term solution to preventing catastrophic climate change isn't a serious conversation either.
Main image: Former Secretary of State John Kerry addressing congress. Credit: Screenshot from Congressional testimony.