After months of build up, the new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis held its first hearing on Thursday. The witnesses were all young adults who will live with the choices members of Congress, and indeed policymakers around the world, make today for the rest of their lives.
Their opening testimonies appealed strongly to committee members to start addressing carbon emissions and help communities adapt to the changes they’re dealing with. But the hearing that followed was a decidedly mixed bag, much like premise of the committee itself. The six Republicans on the committee, many of whom are not exactly staunch climate advocates, spent a lot of time talking up fossil fuels and repeating climate denial talking points. If the committee is to meet the goal in its charter of finding solutions to the crisis, this hearing didn’t inspire confidence.
Let me start by saying it’s good—great, even—that the committee’s first hearing put young adults front and center. It’s an acknowledgment of the generational injustices unfolding right now that have forced a reckoning. Between groups like the Sunrise Movement providing the fuel for the Green New Deal and climate strikers abroad and in the U.S., young adults have added a sense of urgency to how we talk about climate change. The committee’s choice to make them the center of its first hearing showed that these people are on members of Congress’ minds even if some of them can’t vote.
And the witnesses the committee invited showcased the range of ways young adults are approaching the issue. They included Aji Piper, one of the plaintiffs in a climate trial against the U.S. government, Chris Suggs, an activist from Kinston, a small town struck by Hurricane Florence, Lindsay Cooper, an analyst with the Louisiana governor’s office, and Melody Zhang, the co-chair of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. And they did not hold back in their assessment of the risks climate change poses to them and why Congress had to act.
“Forget about being on the right side of history,” Piper said in his testimony. “If there even are history books, it will be because of the efforts that we are taking today. Be on the side of young people right now.”
That may well be true, but what happened today will be part of the record until said record is swallowed by the sea or burned up in a wildfire. And let the record show that it was problematic. There was a lot praise for the young adults for being there and calls for bipartisanship. But the Republicans on the committee appeared to largely view climate change not as a crisis but as a threat to fossil fuel production and deregulation. From the looks of it, their goal on the committee is to delay action as much as possible.
Alabama’s Gary Palmer (lifetime score of zero on climate change from the League of Conservation Voters) went old school climate denial. “Climate has a history, it’s always changing,” he said during the hearing. “We’ve gone through cooling periods and warming periods.”
He then launched into a rambling, confused monolog about an ice shelf that broke apart 125,000 years ago due to “basic physics.” Which yes, that is how the world works. Basic physics. Which is why scientists know rising carbon dioxide traps heat, which causes ice shelves to fall apart and look, Palmer’s just not going to get it so let’s move on.
Three of the committee’s Republican members (including Garret Graves, the ranking member) also hail from fossil fuel states. This in itself is not bad, since those states should be part of a discussion about a just transition away from said fossil fuels and the impact on workers. But rather than ask the witnesses for their thoughts on that, West Virginia’s first-term Representative Carol Miller spent her time railing about how “war on coal from the Obama administration” led to the “decimation” of the coal industry, something that is patently false (coal jobs have declined largely due to automation and cheap natural gas). North Dakota’s Kelly Armstrong spent his entire time reading a letter from a gas field worker.
And Graves prefaced his whole line of questioning by saying the U.S. needed to use an “all of the above energy strategy” before asking the witnesses how the committee should weigh economics vs. the climate benefits of any policies (to which Piper later replied, “economics must be considered but recommendations must be made following science”).
This approach is much more insidious than Palmer’s lazy climate denial. These are the comments of people invested in climate delay, which ups the odds of screwing over the workers they claim to care about. By propping up the fossil fuel industry as it currently stands and letting emissions climb, it means workers could effectively be left without a parachute when the world is forced to take more drastic measures to reduce carbon pollution.
When the Climate Crisis committee was first forming, progressive blasted it for being largely defanged, and for the fact that its members on both sides of the aisle have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossil fuel money. And with Republican members that seem invested in bad faith arguments and uninterested in solutions that upset the status quo, there are open questions about what this committee can accomplish.
I have faith Democratic members are invested in doing something. Nobody wants to be window dressing while the world burns, but members of the committee—hell, the entire world—need to do a lot more.
Earther has reached out to the committee to see how it plans to deal with clear divisions and the climate denial espoused in today’s hearing, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.