GOP-controlled House: Children playing poorly in the climate change sandbox

The incoming Republican-controlled House in the 118th Congress will apparently move to eliminate the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. This is classic “head in the sand, don’t bother me with the facts” behavior that we have come to expect from the Republicans — and it is dangerous.

The House select committee could never be a threat to the GOP’s pro-fossil fuel and backward-looking agenda. It has never proposed any legislation to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases, and it never will. Environmental bills of that sort can only be crafted and proposed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It is only within that committee that climate legislation to abate climate change can begin its tortuous route to floor debate and potential passage to the Senate for consent. Not exactly the “School House Rock” story of a bill that we grew up with.

So, what is right with the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. First of all, it is bipartisan. It is chaired by Democrat Rep. Kathy Castor from hurricane-battered Florida. Three members are from California where wildfires have ravaged the landscape and cost billions of dollars in damage, thousands of homes and hundreds of lives. The committee majority includes a representative from Colorado, where droughts have wreaked havoc over the past few years, as well as a representative from Texas, dealing now with deadly winter storms in addition to summer heatwaves and drought.

Republican Rep. Garret Graves from Louisiana is the ranking member of the minority. He is joined by Republican representatives from Alabama, California, West Virginia, Texas and Ohio — all states that have seen damage born of extreme events attributed at least in part to climate change.

The select committee’s formed in 2019 rallied its members around the theme of “Creating a Climate Resilient America” ​​with an initial focus on “Overcoming the health risks of the climate crisis.” Another hearing typically focused on a different climate risk — turning attention to the ubiquitous topic of infrastructure, “Transportation investment for solving the climate crisis.” The overarching point that ultimately emerged is that you likely cannot get long term investment right if you do not take climate risk into account.

The environmental community has always been critical of these hearings because their even split of witnesses chosen by Democrats and Republicans always made it look like climate change was a 50-50 proposition. Indeed, the Congressional Record is the only documentation of climate risk that reflects that fiction. The scientific consensus is overwhelming on human-caused climate change.

But the select committee never proposed a price on carbon. Nor did it call for restricting oil or gas exploration. And it certainly did not call closing coal mines. These may all be good ideas in the minds of many, but the Republicans need not fear that the select committee would ever be investigating them. Or holding hearings on them. Instead, the select committee was heeding climate scientist John Holdren’s insight that the country has three choices when it comes to climate change: abate, adapt or suffer. And they wanted to reduce the suffering.

It was in the dealing effectively with the third choice that the select committee decided to spend its capital. Their hearings brought climate risks to the fore and entered them into the public record — but not in the abstract. The idea was to bring climate risk to bear on public and private investment decisions so that public or private money would not be wasted, and human lives would not be unnecessarily lost.

You only have to pay attention to attributed climate impacts distributed across the nation and the world to know that the select committee was onto something important. People need to be informed by whatever medium were available so that their suffering can be minimized whatever the abatement stance of the country or the world.

So, why eliminate the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis? Because even its narrowly focused truth is a nuisance. And, of course, because it was created under the Speakership of Nancy Pelosi. Its dismantling is, therefore and perhaps most accurately, a manifestation of the childish retaliation and tribal politics of the past six years.

The country and the planet cannot afford such behavior.

Gary Yohe, Ph.D., is the Huffington Foundation professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus at Wesleyan University.