Could Congress's Inevitable Climate Hearings Be a Good Thing?

File under glass half full: President Obama's head science guy thinks that Congressional climate science hearings would be a good thing.

As the 112th Congress of the House of Representatives convenes on Wednesday, new GOP leaders of many key energy and environment committees and subcommittees are promising drastic changes of course in energy and climate legislation. Not even six months after the Waxman-Markey Bill—also known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed by a hair in the lower chamber—the current session is opening with talk of limiting the E.P.A.'s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, repealing Waxman-Markey, and summoning climatologists to Capitol Hill for hearings on climate science that many climate change advocates are already calling witch hunts.

Not everyone is so worried. On yesterday's episode of Energy Now, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren had this to say about potential hearings:

I think in the new Congress, there will unquestionably be hearings on climate science -- I think those hearings are going to end up being educational. I think we'll probably move the opinions of some of the members of Congress who currently call themselves skeptics, because I think a lot of good scientists are going to come in and explain very clearly what we know and how we know it and what it means, and it's a very persuasive case.


Here's video of the entire episode, which is mostly dedicated to the future of energy science and how to restore America's leadership and innovation in the field. Holdren's comments start around 13:00.

Personally, I'm not so convinced that dragging our country's best climate scientists out of their labs to Washington, D.C., and putting them on the same bill as non-scientists and notorious agents of misinformation will be a net positive. But there's no question that the majority of Congress is hopelessly in the dark on climate science. Some are willfully so, and they're a lost cause and perpetual pro-pollution/anti-climate vote anyways. But there are plenty of moderates who simply don't understand the severity of the threat that climate change presents. I hope that Holdren's optimism is proven to be justified.

The rest of the episode is also well worth watching, if you have a half hour to spare and are interested in how the government is working hard to hit some energy innovation "home runs," and how we can climb from our ranking of 15th in high school science scores worldwide. I'll be writing more about other parts of the episode soon.


Four black women, Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughn, worked as "human computers" at NASA during the Space Race, making space travel possible through their complex calculations. Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughn all played a vital role in helping John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth.

They worked behind the scenes, but now they're getting the credit they deserve as their accomplishments are brought to the forefront. Their amazing stories were detailed in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was later turned into a movie. (Darden was not featured in the movie, but was in the book). Johnson has a building at NASA named after her, and a street in front of NASA's Washington D.C. headquarters was renamed "Hidden Figures Way."

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