Senate Republican Policy Committee – Effects of climate change in Pennsylvania
Senate Republican Policy Committee 5/1/19, 8:30 a.m., Room 8E-B, East Wing By Emily Mistishen, Pennsylvania Legislative Services The committee held a public workshop discussion on the effects of climate change in Pennsylvania. Chairman Argall explained that the goal of the meeting had been to discuss the issue from both sides and present differing points of views. However, organizations who were invited either declined the invite or cancelled, he said. Due to the suddenness of the cancellations, he continued, other panelists were unable to attend. He emphasized that the committee’s goal is to research critical ideas and ensure balanced hearings. Sen. Martin commented on emerging legislation focused on addressing climate change and stated that the duty of legislators is to gather facts on the issue. He expressed disappointment at the lack of discussion and remarked that science pushes “against perceived concepts in order to discover new things.” Legislators depend on facts to decide on policies, he said, and he reiterated his disappointment that those with opposing views were not there. He read through the backgrounds of the panelists present. Gregory Wrightstone, geologist, commented that the absence of those who were invited is a sign of the “degradation of the scientific process.” He opined that the future scientific community will eventually look back and be ashamed of current silencing. He referenced Governor Tom Wolf’s recently-released 2018 Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan and explained that the plan aims to “alter the Earth’s atmospheric temperature by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Additionally, he continued, the plan embraces the Paris Climate Accord and aims to reduce Pennsylvania’s emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) by 80 percent would result in less than 0.01 degrees Fahrenheit in global temperature rise averted, he stated. He asserted that the negative results of the plan, such as taxation, would outweigh the positive results. He added that data doesn’t support the plan’s mention of disastrous climate consequences and stressed the importance of separating speculation from current events. Joseph Bastardi, chief forecaster, WeatherBELL Analytics LLC, questioned why other speakers who were invited did not show up if their evidence is so overwhelming. He remarked that conflict leads to progress and emphasized the importance of “pursuing the correct answer for a purpose bigger than themselves.” He commented that there is no benefit for him to stand in the way of progress and that his skepticism is for the causes of climate change and not climate change itself. The symbol of America isn’t the bald eagle, he opined, it’s the American car, which allows people to travel through fossil fuels. He called for others to “question what they believe, tolerate what they do not, and confront ideas that run counter to their mission,” adding that most of the time it is a “means justify the ends” approach. Wind and solar energy is profitable for the weather industry, he noted, explaining that he is not against them, only focused on the truth. Dr. David Legates, professor of geography, University of Delaware, indicated that he has seen plans similar to Gov. Wolf’s in other states, including Delaware. He explained that the view that controlling CO2 can fix climate change is “patently false.” The most important gas is water vapor, he affirmed, not CO2. He called CO2 a “minor player” in climate change and stated that climate is not defined by global temperatures. If CO2 is changed, everything is changed, he added. Regarding warmer temperatures, Legates said that warmer conditions have less variability, civilizations do better in warmer temperatures versus colder temperatures, and cold temperatures kill more people than warm temperatures. He asserted that the climate cannot be stabilized as it is always varying, and any plans to do so are “fraught with failure” and a “waste.” Rep. Stefano pointed to the Titanic and observed that it is human nature to want to control everything. He questioned when the issue of climate change seemed to become prominent. Legates highlighted a hearing at the US Senate in the 1980s where James Hanson warned of the effects of climate change. Additionally, he described how a speaker at the University of Oklahoma disagreed with the lack of support for climate sciences at the school. Legates explained that the speaker ended by saying, “Let’s not kill the goose that’s laying the golden egg,” and Legates commented that he realized the issue was about the money, not the science. Bastardi opined that the push came from Al Gore’s loss during elections and a refocusing of his mission. He remarked that the implications of climate change are disproportionate and illustrated his father’s stories of past severe weather events, particularly hurricanes. Sen. Martin indicated that CO2 has come to be viewed as a pollutant and inquired if the attempt to control CO2 is counterproductive to the greening of the planet, the wellbeing of civilization, and a reduction in climate-related deaths. Wrightstone explained that the average CO2 levels in the Precambrian era were 2600 parts-per-million (ppm), while today it is 411 ppm. The lowest CO2 levels after the Precambrian was at the end of the last Ice Age, at 172 ppm, and most plant life cannot survive at 150 ppm, he continued. He called that level a “true climate apocalypse.” Since the Industrial Revolution, 130 ppm was added while CO2 levels have dropped by 2200 ppm since the Precambian. Wrightstone called the addition of 130 ppm a “blip” compared to previous CO2 levels and noted that previous interglacial periods had lower CO2 and higher temperatures. “So there’s something else driving temperature than just CO2,” he stated. Bastardi recounted a discussion he had with Dr. William Happer and Happer’s belief in a “CO2 drought.” Bastardi wondered how two scientists teaching the same courses came to different conclusions and stated that it should lead to questions. He opined that the issue is “a lot to do about nothing” and “busy work.” He commented that trying to keep up with weather can be a good “humbling of arrogance.” Legates noted that many commercial greenhouses use CO2 producers to increase CO2 in greenhouses to help plants grow faster and use water more efficiently. The planet has gotten greener due to increased CO2, he continued, which is better for both plants and humans. He reiterated that warmer temperatures have fewer deaths than colder temperatures. Wrightstone asserted that rising temperatures and increased CO2 are “overwhelmingly benefiting” Earth and humanity, particularly through greening, or increased vegetation. Bastardi noted that “extremes thrive on clashes” for the weather, and if there aren’t significant temperature differences between southern and northern regions, there are less extreme weather events. He pointed to previous warnings of a “perma-drought” or a second Dust Bowl and called the issue a “lack of thought” and an inability to look beyond the first level of information. He illustrated the increase of water vapor and called it the “climate control knob.” Chairman Argall asked what legislators should do or not do. Wrightstone referenced the last chapter in his book that focused on the “strength to do nothing.” He restated that the climate is certainly changing, but there are benefits to the change and that a plan to reduce emissions will have a minimal effect on global temperatures. He called for avoiding things that affect the economy and have questionable benefits for citizens. Bastardi urged legislators to “confront the demons of today, not worry about the ghosts of tomorrow.” The country has done well in cleaning the atmosphere, he opined, asserting that coal has gotten to the point where it barely emits any CO2. He commented that it seems like people are more willing to focus on climate change in the future rather than today’s issues of unemployment and economic downturn. Legates stated, “Weather is always variable and climate always changes.” He said that he viewed attempts to control CO2 a “waste of funds” and called for a focus on preparing for weather emergencies, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, rather than prevention. Wrightstone pointed to a study that looked at temperature-related deaths and cited that most of the deaths were from cold temperatures. He added that warmer temperatures have correlated with the growth of crops and civilizations. Bastardi commented that everything that happens is now attributed to climate change and that there is an attempt to “weaponize” the weather. He questioned how much of a percentage of Pennsylvania’s gross domestic product (GDP) should be put into climate change before opining that it would “handcuff” America’s economy for a 0.01 degree change in global temperatures. Sen. Martin remarked that it seems like history is forgotten every time a weather emergency happens. He pointed to past examples of extreme weather events and asked where history comes into play regarding Earth’s cycles. Bastardi commented that for some, “history began 10 minutes ago.” He described how cold weather enhanced flooding through snow melting and frozen ground layers preventing the water from seeping in. He spoke on various examples of hurricanes that weaken from higher categories to lower ones, as well as extreme hurricanes in the past. Hurricanes in the past were much worse, he opined, and that problems arise when people “don’t know what happened yesterday and don’t care to know.” Sen. Martin asked if there are other things impacting climate change that they should be aware of. Wrightstone indicated that temperature changes precede changes in CO2. Legates went through the process of the drivers of climate change and explained that the goal is to reproduce that understanding through climate models. Climate models have “always overstated the case,” he said, and are tuned with higher sensitive to CO2. There are a number of parameters in the models and the goal should be to see the processes in future models, he stated. Using models as a forecast for what the climate will be like is flawed and not a faithful reproduction, he added. Chairman Argall opined that sometimes experts are wrong, pointing to President Donald Trump’s election and the fact that many experts said it was impossible as an example. He inquired if the costs are not worth the benefits in terms of Gov. Wolf’s climate plan. Wrightstone responded “absolutely.” He pointed to the 0.01 degree difference in global temperature as the proposed benefit, and explained that it would come as a result of restricting citizens’ rights for travelling, higher taxation, punishing economics, and less competition. He asserted that the plan will economically impact Pennsylvania and will result in job losses and a drop in Pennsylvania’s GDP. He called for a cost-benefit analysis of the plan and opined that the benefits are not worth the losses. Legates restated that the plan is similar to other state plans and explained that if he thought the plan would save lives and decrease economic hardships, then there should be a cost-benefit discussion. However, he continued by saying that he sees no benefit to the plan in regards to saving lives and alleviating economic disruption and he reiterated that it is a waste of money. He urged for focusing on preparation and handling the aftermath of weather emergencies rather than prevention. Wrightstone pointed to the climate plan’s list of reasons for establishing a plan and stated that the reasons “just aren’t happening.” He added that he is putting together a document debunking the plan’s reasons. Bastardi commented that kids aren’t taught critical thinking anymore and that the educational system is now “touchy-feely.” He stated that the country is fundamentally different from what “got us to where we are.” He opined that he can’t change anyone’s mind and encouraged people to “look for yourself” rather than following a crowd. Sen. Martin thanked the panelists and listed a few areas that need further discussion, including ice caps and the idea of 97-percent consensus, or settled science.