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Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2007House Energy and Commerce Committee: Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality
Climate Change: Are Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Human Activities Contributing to a Warming of the Planet?


  • Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University
  • Dr. John R. Christy, Professor and Director, Earth System Science Center, NSSTC, University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Dr. Gabriele Hegerl, Associate Research Professor, Earth and Ocean Sciences Division, Duke University
  • Dr. James W. Hurrell, Director, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Dr. Roni Avissar, Chair, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University

Also: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on Advanced Energy Technologies & Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on National Imperatives in Earth Science Research

10:40: Dr. Hegerl: Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. What caused the 20th century warming? We look for fingerprints of global warming due to greenhouse gases and other external forcings. We came to the conclusion that it is very, very likely that greenhouse gases are responsible for the majority of the warming.

10:45: Dr. Avissar: The climate seems to be increasing in temperature. Is global warming increasing due to human activity? I start having a different opinion. There are still a lot of uncertainties in the models. We have difficulty to estimate what is the proportion of effect of the greenhouse gases.

10:50: Dr. Christy: Yes, the climate is warming, due in unknown part to greenhouse gases.

Energy demand will grow because its benefits are limitless. There are several new initiatives on energy reductions. Kyoto-level reductions will be too small. We will not be able to tell lawmakers we have achieved something with "climate control."

10:55 Boucher: The IPCC found Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations." Do you agree?

Oppenheimer, Hurrell, and Hagerl: yes. Avissar and Christy tend to agree, but are not sure.

10:57 Boucher: Avissar testified regional models could be improved by including land use. Do you agree, and why?

Hurell: Global climate models are not perfect, and benefit from land use forcing, regional models are one avenue. I believe that the evidence is very convincing that the range of change goes beyond natural variability. As we begin to make comments on regional variability.

Oppenheimer: I would generally agree with Dr. Avissar. We need to model ice sheets to help us predict sea level rise.

Hegerl: I agree that regional predictions need to take into account land use and precipitation, but do not think that they have much effect on global scale.

Boucher: Let me rephrase the question for Dr. Avissar. Should uncertainty about regional modeling affect conclusions about global modeling?

Avissar: The complexity of the climate system; we use idealized models.

Christy: We've modeled three places and the models have been way off.

11:06: In recess.

12:43: Markey: Why did the IPCC exclude rapid dynamical changes in ice flow?

Oppenheimer: Scientists do not have a model that can accurately reproduce the behavior of the ice over the last few decades, so they do not trust the projections of the models for the next few decades and centuries. So scientists are scrambling.

Markey: Would it be fair to say there's an unknown unknown?

Oppenheimer: I would prefer to refer to call it an known unknown.

Markey: Could the melting of the ice sheets be far worse?

Oppenheimer: Yes, that's certainly true. It could be somewhat less, but not a lot less, but possibly a lot more.

Hurrell: I agree with Dr. Oppenheimer's main point. During the last interglacial Greenland's ice sheet was melted.

Hegerl: The lower limit of sea level rise is much less uncertain.

Christy: This is a very complicated issue.

12:48: Markey: Dr. Christy, you've talked about how life before the Industrial Revolution was nasty, brutish, and short, and criticize people for demonizing energy use by discussing the downsides. If you want to characterize that as demonization, I think you misquote Hobbes. There is a Dickensian quality. It's the best of technologies and the worst of technologies at the same time.

Christy: I didn't see a question there.

Markey: I wanted a comment.

Christy: In my experience in Africa. Energy demand will rise dramatically. I don't see how something short of a global recession or depression will lower CO2 emissions.

12:51 GOPER: I'm a creationist. God is in control. God also calls on us to be good stewards. Mr. Christy's comment about life in a carbon world and the benefits provided by a carbon world is undeniable. Life as middle-class Americans -- maybe I'm not in that class any more. We can't just throw that out of this debate. We hear the term "balance." Capping emissions of carbon dioxide. Whether we can do it or even maintain it. Is there a way of maintaining balance without capping carbon dioxide? Can we emit something up in the atmosphere that would help the balance? Something other destroying our fossil fuel society?

Hurrell: Geoengineering is a topic of discussion that is very early.

Oppenheimer: Ultimately we have to come to grips with the carbon problem.

12:54 GOPER: The hockey stick graph is in the report?

Hegerl: The IPCC report has a section on paleoclimatic temperatures.

GOPER: I was having dinner with a classmate is an astronaut. Our we destroying the atmosphere? Is earth at risk of becoming a rock?

Oppenheimer: That's not very likely.

12:56 Burgess: I'm interested in the discussion about how life is brutal and short without the adequate use of energy.

Christy: The economy would just about be destroyed by 60% reduction in CO2. If just the US, the impact on the climate would be very very tiny.

Burgess: Would we prevent a hurricane, Hurricane Katrina?

Christy: No, Hurricane Katrina was a Cat 3 when it hit the coast.

Burgess: Are we going about this the right way?

I don't sit in your seat.

Burgess: More likely than not: heat waves, increased aridity, increased cyclones. What is the percentage?

Hegerl: Greater than 50%.

Burgess: But in a four person race, the number could be lower.

Hegerl: That's not how this works.

Burgess: I know this is true because I read it on a blog on the internet. We know that solar radiation is the number one source of global warming. The solar contribution is an absolute constant.

Oppenheimer: That's not true. Over the last 30 years we have satellites staring at the sun all the time. The variation has been very very time.

Burgess: That brings me to the blog. Mars has global warming. Are humans at fault for that?

Oppenheimer: Mars also has a greenhouse effect, but we're not responsible.

GOPER2: How many scientists are on the IPCC panel?

Hegerl: Hundreds. Depends on the definition.

Hurrell: There were 152 lead authors and 400 contributing authors to Working Group I.

GOPER2: There was some discussion on the impact of global warming on hurricanes. The lead author of the hurricane section ended up resigning. Are any of you familiar with that?

Hurrell: It was a contributing author.

GOPER2: It seems immersed in total politics. Anything below 3 degrees of warming--developed countries will benefit and developing countries will not benefit. Are you familiar?

Oppenheimer: That's Working Group II. That's an old statement, but it was more likely that developing countries would suffer first.

GOPER2: A submission in Geophysical Review Letters if every nation lived up to Kyoto regulations only 1.26 deg C reduction every fifty years.

Oppenheimer: Kyoto was viewed as a first step. While it's technically correct that Kyoto would only have a limited effect, it would have been a first step.

GOPER2: It would help if we could all be less emotional on this issue. If we can make this less sensation we all benefit. Tell me about DICE.

Oppenheimer: DICE is an economic model that attempts to look at the costs of reducing emissions and the costs of the effects of global warming.

A crude way to look at it: the costs would be several percent of GDP cumulative over 50 years--the costs of the damage would be in balance. A current investment makes sense.

Insley: What would the mean temperatures of the planet be without CO2?

It would be 32 C colder without greenhouse gases like water vapor.

Insley: We're going to be about twice pre-industrial levels unless this Congress pulls its head out of the sand. I'm really glad Dr. Christy came.

Barton: I want it to be clear this 32C change. Most of it is natural.

1:15 Insley: "We're adding carbon dioxide donuts. It's like us eating 5 pounds of donuts each year. Eventually I'll be 400 pounds. It's very concerning." We sort of assume that if we do something about CO2 we'll be living in poverty. I'd like to quote Christian Aid: "It is vulnerable people who are affected first by global warming."

We're going to have to go back to living in the Stone Age. The working assumption is that humans don't have the brains to develop the technology.

Dr. Christy: Americans are innovative.

Insley: What percentage increase of technology do you believe Americans can create as an increase in efficiency?

Christy: I'm a Christian missionary and a climate scientist. I don't think those folks can. I think it would take decades, except for nuclear.

Insley: The argument that it would take decades is not an argument for delay, it's an argument to take action.

Christy: When you say get started, I worry about the people of Alabama.

Insley: If the people of Alabama would adopt some of what people did in California, they'd be better off.

1:20 GOPER3: Mrs. Hegerl, 1300 years ago, what kind of meteorologists were on the planet? What kind of thermometers were on the planet?

Dr. Hegerl: You can reconstruct temperature with proxy data with uncertainty.

GOPER3: Talk about this naturally occuring phenomenon happening with the water.

Hegerl: Water vapor increases have been observed.

GOPER3: I don't know much about science.

Hegerl: We have done relatively well predicting the last 15 years.

GOPER3: Would most of you agree that this is complicated stuff and we should move cautiously?

Oppenheimer: I think the problem should be looked at carefully but the record is thick.

GOPER3: Shouldn't people look at the economic impact?

Oppenheimer: People have. For instance, if the US had implemented Kyoto, the effect would have been about a 1/10th of a percent of GDP per year.

GOPER3: Have you built a climate observational data set from scratch?

Hurrell: I have not. I am a climate diagnostician.

1:25 Walden (OR): Do models accurately model regional climate?

Christy: The answer is no. When the models match the past 100 years, you have to remember that they're plugging in the observed data into the models.

Walden (OR): Does that mean they manipulate the data?

Christy: No, but there is a level of tuning.

Hegerl: The ocean content set came out in 2001. The modelers did not know the data. This is strong evidence in support of the models.

Hurrell: I would like to state for the record that climate models are complicated, but each process are based on the best science. The impressive match is a powerful statement that the models work.

Walden: The upper surface of the ocean cooled significantly. What about that?

Hegerl: Variations over a short time scale are very difficult to interpret, but I would warn against trying to extrapolate from them.

Walden: Do we see short term variation in glaciers?

Oppenheimer: We see dramatic variation in glacier movement.

Walden: It could be 100 years before we get back to equilibrium.

Oppenheimer: It would take about 2 centuries to return to 300 ppm. We're not going to get back to 200 ppm. The likelihood is that we're never going to get back to the preindustrial 280 ppm. We're stuck with some of that CO2 for 1000 years.

1:31 Barton: What's the largest concentration of the CO2 ever in the atmospher?

Oppenheimer: Ever? There were times in the earth's history when there was much more CO2 in the atmosphere than oxygen.

Barton: Isn't it a fact that CO2 was much higher than 300 ppm.

Oppenheimer: That occured very slowly, over millions of years.

Barton: Isn't it true that we're taking 1850 which was in an ice age as the base level.

Oppenheimer: An ice age means 1000 feet of ice reaching across North America.

Barton: Are clouds critical to the warming of earth? Do we understand cloud formation?

Christy: Not well at all.

Barton: I'm told there are about 20 models that portray themselves as being able to model the atmosphere. But they don't model cloud formation well at all.

Christy: From my point of view that would be true.

Barton: As a policy maker, how many millions of jobs should I put at risk for the sake of political correctness?

Oppenheimer: I resent the implication that global warming is a question of political correctness.

Barton: Your testimony is that if we stopped emissions now it would take 100 years for there to be any change.

Oppenheimer: That wasn't my testimony. We could have a substantial change in climate with reductions in greenhouse gases.

Barton: There are some negative forcings. Should we encourage those to combat global warming?

Oppenheimer: If you want people to breathe dirtier air, then sure, go ahead. But I don't think you want to solve one environmental problem  with another one.

Hastert: There's not a lot of exactness there....clouds, ice sheets...

Burgess: We've heard a lot of intriguing science. The level of uncertainty we've heard today seems to me that a timeline of July 1 is untenable.

1:39 Hearing is adjourned.

Originally posted to The Cunctator on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 07:48 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Audio link (7+ / 0-)

    Streaming audio.

    No video, unfortunately.

  •  Senate Energy: Advanced Energy Technologies (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nightprowlkitty, A Siegel

    Watch the hearing

    Dan Reicher is awesome.

  •  not conclusive but fair (3+ / 0-)

    reading the quotes I get the sense these experts are trying to be fair and maybe not as conclusive or decisive as many of us want them to sound

    But it is wayyyyyyyyy better than anything of the nutcase, totally blur the truth from the GOP congress.

    That said, great work live blogging these hearings

    Choice quote: "Energy demand will grow because its benefits are limitless. There are several new initiatives on energy reductions. Kyoto-level reductions will be too small. We will not be able to tell lawmakers we have achieved something with "climate control." Dr Christy

    limitless benefits trappings of our doom, knida like the 0% credit before the introductory period is up.

    •  Typical, though (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      If you took a random sample of climate scientists you wouldn't get 40% global warming skeptics (and these are skeptics in the sense that they think the uncertainty is much higher than nearly everyone else does).

      It makes for an interesting panel, but it's not an accurate representation of the consensus.

      •  Mars has global warming. Are humans at fault for (0+ / 0-)

        What a goober
        The whole exchange was out there:

        Burgess: I know this is true because I read it on a blog on the internet. We know that solar radiation is the number one source of global warming. The solar contribution is an absolute constant.

        Oppenheimer: That's not true. Over the last 30 years we have satellites staring at the sun all the time. The variation has been very very time.

        Burgess: That brings me to the blog. Mars has global warming. Are humans at fault for that?

        Oppenheimer: Mars also has a greenhouse effect, but we're not responsible.

        It is ironic but probably fortuatous that peak oil is occurring at about the same time that GCC is becoming a crisis.  Like some of your your additional posts indicate, there will be alot of tippy toeing and 'consumer incentives' before any real action is taken.  Unfortunately, more serious events like big Greenland meltings or the dissappearance of artic ice will convince the GOP that GCC is real and caused by manmade pollutants.

  •  National Imperatives for Earth Science Research (0+ / 0-)

    Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee

    Live webcast

    • Dr. Berrien Moore III, Director, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire
    • Dr. Otis D. Brown, Dean, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami
    • Dr. Michael Freilich, Director, Earth Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    • Ms. Nancy Colleton, President, Institute for Global Environment Strategies; Executive Director, Alliance for Earth Observations
    •  3:07 Moore (0+ / 0-)

      We're really going to have to rethink the way we're doing things. It's not working.

    •  3:11 Freilich (0+ / 0-)

      We are investigating with our international partners what might be available between the demise of the LANDSAT 7 mission and the LANDSAT Continuity Mission.

      We are actively dealing with our international partners to try to assemble a data set to enable climate science to continue.

    •  3:12 Sen. Nelson (0+ / 0-)

      Dr. Brown, are the new missions in the NASA mission consistent with the Decadal Survey?

      •  Moore (0+ / 0-)

        Yes. I'm very pleased with the 2008 budget. The 08-09 budgets get things back on track. NASA did not have the final report of the decadal survey. As a consequence, after '09, things go negative again. I'm hopeful that with Allen Stern coming in we'll see the '09 budget turn around.

        The Survey deals with the missions that are dead critical, whether it's earthquakes or climate, drought.

      •  Brown (0+ / 0-)

        (mumbles a bit.)

        The outstanding problem that is unaddressed is the loss of capability with NPOS(?).

        Nelson: Are there any of those projects you would consider a lower priority?

        Brown: In terms of the decadal survey, no. It was pretty much a consensus across the panel that these were the high priority missions.

        Nelson: Bare-bones NPOESS. What are the risks to our nation's coastal areas?

        Brown: The risks are multifold. Some would happen sooner than later. The longterm risk is that we'll have interruptions in climate records. We'll lose data we'll really not want to lose, like solar irradiance.

        We could see interruptions in the climate part of the record.

        The other part, the direct impact...

        Trying to map polar ice extents and thickness. Which parts of capabilities is diminished means the errors in our confidence in estimating sea level rise will increase, for example.

      •  3:19 Colleton (0+ / 0-)

        I don't think there's enough money in the budget.

        We need to look at more of the integrated information.

    •  3:20 Nelson (0+ / 0-)

      NOAA's hurricane aircraft.....

      Colleton: I think it underscores the importance of looking at the whole picture.

      •  Moore (0+ / 0-)

        If we did not go ahead with the recommendations of the decadal, we would not have good measurements of ice sheets. We know the ice sheets are changing. We wouldn't have that information.

        We wouldn't have good measurements of sea level.

        They have eliminated the coastal waters imagery.

        I think the coastal communities are living right at the tipping point.

      •  Freilich (0+ / 0-)

        We are presently running 14 earth measuring satellites. Sea level is one of our great accomplishments. The Ocean Surface Topography mission is about to launch. It's going to continue at extremely high accuracy.

      •  3:25 Colleton (0+ / 0-)

        Nelson: Can you discuss some important applications?

        Drought monitoring. Terrible, terrible drought in Texas. Through the U of Neb, anyone can go to the Drought Monitor.

        One of the most exciting thing we're seeing in applications is the interaction between climate and environmental health. Malaria, for example.

        One other area that will be very important in remote sensing is the application of this to the carbon finance market.

      •  3:27 Freilich (0+ / 0-)

        NPOESS is a step forward. In some instances the instruments chosen to fly on NPOESS were quite mature. One of the instruments the ATMS is in good shape. It is already integrated onto the spacecraft.

        In other areas we were reaching rather far.

        Perhaps we did not examine the technology and implementation issues in the context of research missions. Historically NASA did the research missions.

        Virtually all the research missions provide data in real time, and end up being used in weather observation. That may account for some of our eagerness to get a constellation of operational instruments, IMHO.

      •  Nelson (0+ / 0-)

        Can NPOESS meet the goals?

        Freilich: We will be able to achieve the weather-forecasting abilities. As far the climate goes, I think the assessment is fairly honest. Given the resources available, I think we shouldn't focus on the climate, so we have to get the measurements other ways.

        Nelson: On the revised cost schedule and technical goals. Are we going to have problems?

        Freilich: Every mission I've been involved with has problems. Two instruments present significant challenges, non-NASA-supplied but critical.

        Will NPP fill the gap?

        Freilich: NPP with international partners, particularly UMET.

      •  3:37 Moore (0+ / 0-)

        There will be far less capability of measuring soil moisture. One of our key recommendations for NASA was a soil moisture mission. There will have to be the capability of taking the data from the scientific mission and incorporating it into the operational side of NOAA and the Air Force.

        The altimeter is lost from the NPOESS mission. Will there be the capability of ingesting this data?

        We made it very clear in the interim and the final report to NOAA. NPOESS is advertised not just as a weather mission but as a climate mission. Weather Central is where the data is processed for weather predictions. Where's the Climate Central?

        The instrument changes, the algorithm that processes the data changes. For weather purposes you need speed in data. We never had a response to where the climate processing is.

      •  Freilich (0+ / 0-)

        End of 2008-beginning of 2009: Aerosol and polar irradiance. We require overlap to calibrate our instruments.

        As far as the earth radiation budget mission, Clarios, the joint mission between NASA and NOAA is one of the lower-budget and higher priority missions.

        •  3:43 Freilich (0+ / 0-)

          We have to put the plan together and have to account for all the measurements we need to take, including the new measurements in the decadal survey and the measurements that would have been taken by NPOESS.

          There is request in the FY 08 President's Budget for the earth science pathfinder mission that will launch in approximately 2014. We are taking that line into account. There is money in the President's budget for a medium sized mission in 2014.

        •  3:46 Freilich (0+ / 0-)

          The measurement of the altitude distribution of ozone is a relatively small and mature technology. We will look very very carefully at getting that flown in the near future.

          In terms of soil moisture, there are a number of possibilities laid out in the decadal survey that lay out relatively well with the global precipitation mission. If we can overlap some of these and kill multiple birds with fewer stones.

          The global precipitation mission has a core spacecraft with the Japanese Space Agency will launch in mid-2013. In 2014 includes the GPM constellation spacecraft. The radiometer on that spacecraft may perhaps be adapted (not that I should do design here)...

          These are the questions we are facing.

          Nelson: What about Climate Centrals?

          Freilich: That function has to be recognized as being very important. NASA does not do that kind of work. However we do need it to advance the science and societal impact.

          Colleton: I think Dr. Moore said it accurately. There is this focus on Weather Centrals and a push for speed.

          Moore: I think the Weather Centrals have their job and should focus on their job. Climate Central should be structured differently and separated. Our concern is that it's not in the budget or the planning. I do not see any way to just piggyback it on anything else.

          Solar monitoring: I was taking into consideration that NASA's Glory mission takes us into 2013. Our recommendation is that it is not expensive, highly important -- you've got to have that overlap -- put it back on the first NPOESS spacecraft. But it requires resources. We may see additional pressure on the program. I don't see how the needs are going to be met unless things change.

          3:52 Brown: Should you restructure the federal government? That's not that kind of comment, but there was no climate sponsor then. Who is going to be the climate sponsor for the next generation of satellites? That's the question.

        •  3:54 Colleton (0+ / 0-)

          NPOESS is supposed to go to 2024. What follows? I would hope that you would call for a long-term strategy for earth observation.

          I would hope that you would call for such an action.

    •  3:54 Moore (0+ / 0-)

      One final comment. When we put forth 15 missions. We could have grouped those missions in three large missions. We thought we were recommending a more robust strategy by breaking it up.

      Mike Freilich spoke very positively about the decadal survey. Let's see if we can't embrace it.

      We recommended 15 missions to NASA. Let's look at the first 6 or 7. $70 milion. Let's start working those right now. Industry would look at this, earth science is where we have to put this money. When you're in a hole, the first thing you stop digging.

      $70 million is a lot of money but in other ways it's not a lot.

      3:57 Nelson is wrapping up with introductions.

  •  Recap HERE (0+ / 0-)

    Global Public Media's article on the hearing.

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