COMMENTARY: Inhofe’s distortions and ignorance demean Senate and debate over oil pipeline

That famous climate change-denying curmudgeon James M. Inhofe is at it again, and this time his willful denial of facts and slander of scientists is casting a sad shadow over the U.S. Senate as it starts a new Congress with a debate over the controversial KXL oil pipeline.

Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, is well-known for his refusal to accept that human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases are changing the climate of Earth. Among the greatest hits of this man’s obtuse failure to recognize reality are these memorable comments:

  • “[T]his 97% [of climate scientists accepting human-caused global warming], that doesn’t mean anything. I named literally thousands of scientists on the floor…and these were top people.” – Source
  • “Regarded as the ‘greatest scandal of our generation’ by the UK Telegraph, “Climategate,” as the scandal is called, discloses what scientists over the years had been telling me: the so-called ‘consensus’ is simply wrong.” – Source
  • “In short, some parts of the IPCC process resembled a Soviet-style trial, in which the facts are predetermined, and ideological purity trumps technical and scientific rigor. ” – Source
  • “The claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science.” – Source

During the 114th Congress, which started earlier this month after an election in November that saw Republicans gain control of the Senate and expand their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Inhofe will chair the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. He is, therefore, in an influential position and one might expect that, as such, he might choose his words more judiciously. Unfortunately, the 80-year old from Tulsa continues to display both both belligerence and ignorance.

Last week, Inhofe added to his infamy. During a debate on a proposed amendment to ban the export of oil carried in the KXL pipeline, Inhofe marred the Senate’s deliberation by lambasting scientists and by, again, raising the false accusation that climatologists are lying about mankind’s impact on the planet’s climate. He also misrepresented the meaning of a scientific paper to give credence to his misguided beliefs.

“[E]ven if someone is a believer that the world is coming to an end, that global warming is going to kill everybody and it is all due to man-made gas, if they truly believe that still, even in spite of that, it is not going to reduce worldwide emissions. I guess that is what they want to do, so we hear about the consensus,” Inhofe said.

“I remember at that time I made a speech on this floor questioning the science. I said, ‘I assume there are scientists out there are not part of the IPCC – that is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and that those scientists know better. They know what the reality is,'” Inhofe continued. “I started getting phone calls. I got phone calls from scientists.”

Inhofe explained that 58 “recognized scientists,” including climate change denier Richard S. Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had contacted him.

He later explained that there is no consensus in the scientific community that climate change is happening because “63 percent of weather-casters believe any global warming that is occurring is the result of natural variation and not human activities.”

Inhofe also claimed that a paper published in Nature during 2013 casts doubt on the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

“Nature journal, which is a well-respected journal, in their 2013 paper said that there is considerable uncertainty as to whether [increases in extreme climate variability] is occurring,” the Oklahoman said.

He was referring to an August 2013 paper that concluded only that, in a warmed world, the range between high and low temperatures would not necessarily expand. The paper articulated no conclusions about the impact of climate change on mean temperatures. As lead author Dr. Chris Huntingford, a climatologist at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom, explained in an email message:

“Our Nature paper strictly analyzes only year-to-year variability (fluctuations) in temperature, and demonstrates that in some parts of the world, this is actually going down. Elsewhere it is going up. This may be seen in both direct measurements and in supporting climate model simulations. This goes against the view
that maybe, as general global warming occurs, everywhere will additionally see larger year-to-year swings in temperature.

“However, we do not at any point offer evidence against a general on-going background and upwards warming trend. Detection and attribution statistical studies show that the observed average increasing temperatures are almost certainly a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels.”

Inhofe also invoked the discredited “Climategate” claim that climatologists have fabricated research. Multiple reviews have concluded that such claims are false.

“Climategate was when they analyzed some of the things IPCC had said and they had all these quotes and emails that totally debunked the credibility of IPCC,” Inhofe asserted. “Still today they are talking about it.”

These arguments, steeped in a deeply flawed understanding about the nature of science and a willingness to deceive the American people about what scientists know about our changing climate, are despicable. The question whether the Obama administration should grant the permit needed to build the KXL pipeline across the Canada-U.S. border is an important one; some members of Congress who support the pipeline argue that constructing it will result in lower overall greenhouse gas emissions than blocking it. Others make the point that the oil that would move through it is filthy and likely to further delay a needed transition away from fossil fuels. Whatever their perspectives, many contributors to the debate on KXL that has happened in both chambers of Congress this month have made their arguments cogently, honestly, and intelligently.

That is, unfortunately, not the way that Mr. Inhofe has done it. He’s not the only one, of course, but here’s the thing that bears emphasis: Members of Congress have a privilege to say whatever they want on the floor of the Senate or the House of Representatives, but they should not abuse that privilege by making comments that are utterly foolish and that do nothing to advance an intelligent discussion of either energy policy or an American response to the growing climate change crisis.

Mr. Inhofe should do the people of this country the courtesy of learning what science is, how it works, and why it indisputably teaches that the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will change the climate before he knocks the efforts of climatologists. And is it too much to ask that he, or at least his staff, read a scientific paper before, yes, lying about its conclusions on the floor of the United States Senate?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s