Yesterday, the House Science Committee held a hearing on “Using Technology to Address Climate Change.” The debate quickly ran aground on the question of whether climate change is being caused by increases in greenhouse gas emissions, as climate scientists believe, or whether the entire theory has been falsified by an international scientific cabal in service of a secret agenda to extend government control of the economy, as most Republicans believe.
A normal person would hesitate to engage in a scientific debate on this question with a professionally trained scientist. But since many Republicans believe the entire theory of anthropogenic global warming has been falsified, they assume they can refute it with simple personal observations, such as, “If average global temperatures are rising, why is there snow in February?”
Representative Mo Brooks brought his distinct analytical contribution to the debate by trying to prove to Philip Duffy, Ph.D., President of the Woods Hole Research Center and a former senior adviser in the White House National Science and Technology Council, that the sea-level rise might have causes other than the warming of the ocean and melting land ice caused by warmer temperatures. Brooks began his inquisition by asserting, “Ever since human beings have been on the planet, sea levels have risen.” Duffy explained that sea levels have in fact fluctuated since humans appeared on the planet, and that warmer air was the driver of this change.
Brooks wasn’t buying it. “Let’s assume for a moment that what you’re talking about has some kind of factual, rational basis for it, that ice has melted. Are there other factors?,” he asked. Brooks proceeded to explain that rivers carry dirt into the sea, causing the sea level to rise, leading to this surreal exchange.
Brooks: “Every time you have that soil or rock deposited into the seas, that causes the sea level to rise, because now you’ve got less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up.”
Duffy: “I’m pretty sure that —”
Brooks: “What about the white cliffs of Dover, California, where time and time again you’re having the waves crash against the shorelines, and time and time again, you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea. All that displaces water, which forces it to rise, does it not?”
Duffy: “I’m pretty sure that on human time scale those are minuscule effects.”
Scientists believe the accelerated rise in sea levels of the last century is caused by the rising temperatures of the last century. On the other hand, maybe Brooks is right that people are just kicking more rocks into the ocean. There’s no way to tell!