Climate scientists who appeared Wednesday morning before a Senate committee hearing on climate change and extreme weather impacts had stark warnings for the lawmakers: climate change is here, climate change is man-made, and climate change is going to cost us big time.
Dr. James McCarthy, professor at Harvard University and lead author of several climate impact studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other international papers, told the committee that there is "widespread agreement among specialists who devote their careers" to monitoring key indicators of global warming.
He acknowledged that, of course, climates fluctuate on a yearly basis, but that the mounting evidence of a warming world was changing the baseline of those fluctuations.
"In the future," he said, as greenhouse gases continue to increase, natural events like El Nino cycles, "Will wreak even more havoc as they break old records for warm and wet conditions across much of the globe, because they will be occurring upon a higher baseline of warming."
His IPCC colleague and climate scientist at Stanford University Dr. Christopher Fields, said that these events will have an increasingly strong impact on communities.
"Understanding the role of climate change in the risk of extremes is one of the most active areas of climate science," he said. "As a result of rapid progress over the last few years, it is now feasible to quantify the way that climate change alters the risk of certain events or series of events."
Giving examples, and citing studies to back them up, he continued:
"Climate change at least doubled the risk of the European heat wave of 2003, a high-impact extreme that led to tens of thousands of premature deaths, especially among the elderly or infirm. On the other hand, there is no evidence that climate change played a role in the serious flooding in Thailand in 2011. The primary causal agent there was altered land management. For the 2011 Texas drought, La Niña (cold water in the eastern Pacific) played a role, but recent research by David Rupp and colleagues concludes that, in a La Niña period, extreme heat is now 20 times more likely than in the 1960s."
"There is no doubt that climate has changed," Fields said. "There is also no doubt that a changing climate changes the risks of extremes, including extremes that can lead to disaster."
Despite the evidence presented, however, Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma was unwavering in his denial of the scientific communities findings. In his prepared opening remarks, Inhofe said: "The global warming movement has completely collapsed."
What drove the collapse, he argued, "was that the science of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was finally exposed" and said the IPCC was "a political body, not a scientific body."
Also in attendance, however, was Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who earlier this week gave Senator Inhofe a scathing rebuke from the Senate floor on his climate science denialism. "The bottom line," Sanders said on Monday, "is that when Senator Inhofe says global warming is a hoax, he is just dead wrong, according to the vast majority of climate scientists."
“For better or worse, when Sen. Inhofe speaks, the Republican Party follows," Sanders declared. "And when the Republican Party follows, it is impossible to get real work done in the Congress."
According to The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg, Sanders continued his assault on Inhofe's denialism at Wednesday's hearing, "asking the scientists on the panel for their opinions on some of Inhofe's more notorious assertions – that climate change is a hoax, that the planet is actually in a state of cooling, and that such environmental concerns were a conspiracy by the UN, Al Gore, and Hollywood."
The scientists, reported Goldenberg, did not support Inhofe's claims.
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