In his inaugural address in January 2009, Barack Obama noted that, "each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet," the first time that an incoming president used his his opening words to underline the dangers of climate change.
Twenty-two months later, Americans have elected a Congress in which, it seems safe to say, the majority of newcomers do not hold the same view of global warming science as the head of the Executive Branch.
A National Journal survey revealed that, of 20 Republican candidates for contested Senate seats in yesterday's mid-term elections, 19 of them disputed the science behind climate change. That position proved especially attractive for members of the Tea Party movement, many of whom, according to the New York Times, consider opposition to climate change legislation almost literally an article of faith.
“They’re trying to use global warming against the people,” the Times quoted the founder of one Tea Party affiliate as saying. “It takes away our liberty [...] Being a strong Christian, I cannot help but believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country and it’s not there to destroy us.”
It isn't necessarily a given that the forthcoming Congress will be significantly less adept at addressing climate change legislation than the outgoing one. After all, although the Democrat-controlled House passed a climate bill, the Democrat-controlled Senate could not. But the President told Rolling Stone earlier this year that, although he recognized he may have to do it in "chunks" rather than one piece of comprehensive legislation, "One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our overreliance on fossil fuels."
With a skeptical and solid Republican majority in the House, and a substantially diminished and skittish Democratic majority in the Senate, even those chunks will be all but impossible to adopt. Of at least equal significance, however, will be the power of the new majority to focus on those measures that have already been adopted.
One of the first targets will undoubtedly be the "endangerment finding" issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late 2009, which would allow the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In a December letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, two Senators and two Congressmen questioned the science behind the decision, with one of them, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, asserting that, “This Administration used flawed science created by a community of bullies to push through ideologically based policies.”
Issa, likely to become chair of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has already stated that he is likely to use his position to hold hearings into the validity of climate data, focusing in particular on the so-called "Climategate" controversy, even though investigation after investigation has vindicated the scientists involved, as well as their data.
Indeed, because of the extreme confidence of climate researchers in their data and conclusions, some commentators have urged scientists to welcome and encourage such hearings.
Perhaps more Americans would become convinced if the goal of such hearings were genuine elucidation. But, as Michael Mann of Penn State University, one of climate skeptics' favorite scientific targets, wrote in an op-ed last month in the Washington Post:
Photo: Architect of the Capitol