Last week’s hearing by the House Science Committee on “Climate
Change: The State of the Science” aptly, if unintentionally,
illustrated “the state of the politics” surrounding this
issue. On the same day that President George Bush announced
his opposition to controls on carbon dioxide emissions, the
Republican Chairman of the House Science Committee, Sherwood
Boehlert (NY) declared this position “misguided and
unjustified.” Within minutes, the senior Democrat on the
committee, Rep. Ralph Hall (TX), was praising the president
for his announcement. And, as been the case at similar
hearings, there was enough uncertainty about this phenomenon
that Members on both sides of this issue could elicit
responses to their questions supporting their positions.

Chairman Boehlert opened the hearing declaring “there is one
principle concerning global climate change on which just about
everyone can agree – and that’s that we need a strong and
continuing research program to understand more about climate.”
He later went on to say, “I wish the Administration would
have waited to hear from experts like the ones we have before
us today before embarking on what I believe is a misguided and
unjustified reversal of position. But policy is not what we
are focusing on at today’s hearing.”

Ranking Minority Member Hall described his position on global
change as “poles apart” from Boehlert, saying that it was time
to “retire” from this subject. Citing the Senate’s
overwhelming opposition to the Kyoto Treaty, he called it a
waste of time to go to Japan.

The first witness was Daniel L. Albritton, Director of NOAA’s
Aeronomy Lab, and one of the Coordinating Lead Authors of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, “Climate
Change 2001. The Scientific Basis.” His testimony focused on
several major points, stating at the outset that “it has
become very clear for some time that we are changing the
greenhouse radiation balance, namely: greenhouse gases are
increasing in the atmosphere because of human activities, and
increasingly trapping more heat.” One of the key points in
his testimony was that “a greenhouse-gas warming could be
reversed only very slowly.” Also testifying was Charles
Kennel, Chairman of the Committee on Global Change Research of
the National Research Council. This committee recently issued
a report, “The Science of Regional and Global Change: Putting
Knowledge to Work.” He testified that the NRC “recommends
establishing a high-level governmental authority to define the
national priorities related to global and regional
environmental research and decision-making. The authority
should ensure and direct adequate resources to those
priorities. Without such an authority, agencies will continue
to fund only those areas that fall within their purview and
the resulting patchwork of observing systems and research will
not work as an effective decision-support system.” The final
witness, Berrien Moore, Director of the Institute for the
Study of Earth, Oceans and Space of the University of New
Hampshire, outlined ten broad areas in which further effort is
needed to understand and predict climate change. Among the
ten were: “arrest the decline of observational networks in
many parts of the world” and “sustain and expand the
observational foundation for climate studies by providing
accurate, long-term consistent data, including implementation
of a strategy for integrated global observations.”

Reaction from many committee members was largely supportive.
Boehlert told the witnesses that “we need help,” and asked
each of them to identify three areas that should be addressed
first. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) urged the witnesses to
discuss the problem in “plain English,” while Rep. Vern Ehlers
(R-MI) asked about disagreement in the scientific community
about global change, and the positive and negative regional
effects of warming. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) was openly
skeptical about global change.

Boehlert concluded the hearing by commenting that there are
few issues that are marked by 100% certainty. The key to
dealing with skepticism about this issue, he said, is the
support of research to characterize this problem.


Richard M .Jones

Public Information Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3095