In a Senate hearing Thursday, environmental scientist Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado said it’s “incorrect” to claim that global warming is spurring more extreme weather disasters.
“It is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally,” Pielke said in his testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.”
“Hurricanes have not increased in the U.S. in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900,” Pielke added. “The same holds for tropical cyclones globally since at least 1970.”
Senate Democrats pointed to the increase in extreme weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes as evidence of global warming. California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said that “climate change is real” and human activities were the cause, adding that people can “look out the window” to see evidence of it.
“Heat waves, droughts, wildfires and floods – all are now more frequent and intense,” said President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address.
Pielke, however, notes that U.S. floods have not increased in “frequency or intensity” since 1950 and economic losses from floods have dropped by 75 percent as a percentage of GDP since 1940. Tornado frequency, intensity, and normalized damages have also not increased since 1950, and Pielke even notes that there is some evidence that this has declined.
Pielke noted in his testimony that droughts have been shorter, less frequent, and have covered a smaller portion of the U.S over the last century. Globally, there has been very little change in the last 60 years, he said.
“The absolute costs of disasters will increase significantly in coming years due to greater wealth and populations in locations exposed to extremes,” Pielke added. “Consequent, disasters will continue to be an important focus of policy, irrespective of the exact future course of climate change.”
Senators sparred over predictions and claims made about man-made global warming. Democrats argued that the effects of global warming can be felt today and Republicans argued that evidence of human-induced warming is thin.
“I would note that it has not been titled ‘Global Warming: It’s Happening Now,’” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter. “Maybe that would have been too ironic given the Earth’s stagnant temperature for the past 15 years, a fact that is currently confounding climate scientists and modeling experts who predicted otherwise.”
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, a longtime critic of global warming claims, pointed to a set of Obama administration talking points on the “do’s and don’ts” when talking about global warming.
The talking points suggested not leading with economic arguments, not talking about scientific consensus surrounding global warming, and instead focusing on extreme weather.
Prior to the hearing, Republicans on the committee released a report that called into question many past global warming claims made by Democrats, as well as Obama administration policy proposals.
This didn’t deter Senate Democrats who continued to argue that global warming could be seen today. Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, both pushed for taxing carbon emissions.
Republicans criticized the lack of White House testimony at the hearing.
“It is unfortunate we don’t have any witnesses here from the Obama administration,” Vitter said. “Just weeks ago, President Obama announced a sweeping climate action plan, which will undoubtedly tighten the federal government’s grip on our economy.”
“If the president is going after greenhouse gases, he won’t stop at coal,” said Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso.
Boxer, who chairs the committee, said no one from the administration was invited because they would be called in for future hearings on global warming.