White House Science Advisor: Climate Change Skeptics Are ‘Heretics’

February 17, 2011 - 7:21 PM

 John Holdren, Director of White House Science and Technology Policy with President Barack Obama at The White House

John Holdren, Director of White House Science and Technology Policy with President Barack Obama at The White House

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s top science advisor, Dr. John Holdren, told a congressman asking about climate change skeptics that climate change is accepted science and that “there are always heretics” in the scientific community.

“This is not the view of a few isolated scientists, this is the overwhelming view of scientists who study this matter around the world,” Holdren said, adding,  “There are always skeptics, there are always heretics. That’s in the nature of science.

Holdren, who heads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, appeared before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to discuss the president’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request for research and development.

Holdren's comments were to Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the committee chairman who, referring to the spending levels for climate-change research, asked Holdren why the American taxpayer should put much stock in Holdren’s predictions of climate-related catastrophe, considering that he has been incorrect in the past.

The top scientist responded that the administration’s position on global climate change is in the “mainstream."

“Every major national academy of sciences in the world, and virtually all of the major professional societies that deal with the relevant disciplines have issued statements saying that the evidence for climate change outside the realm of natural variability is overwhelming, that we have very strong reason to believe that human activity is responsible for a large part of this change, that harm is already occurring from these changes and that the harm will grow unless and until we stabilize and begin to reduce our emissions,” Holdren said.

But Holdren also compared global warming skeptics to those who disparage the link between smoking and lung cancer.

“You will be able to produce on the witness stand a few who will say they don’t believe it, but they are very much in the minority,” Holdren said. “You could also produce people on this witness stand who will say, with PhD’s attached to their names, that they don’t believe cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer.”

He added: “But public policy, in my judgment, should be based on the mainstream view because to base it otherwise is to risk the well-being of the public against very long odds.”

Congressman Hall was referring to a 2006 BBC television interview that Holdren gave as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in which he suggested that there could be a “catastrophic” rise in seal level of up to 4 meters (or 13 feet) by roughly 2100.

A BBC article accompanying the interview reads: “(Holdren) added that if the current pace of change continued, a catastrophic sea level rise of 4m (13ft) this century was within the realm of possibility; much higher than previous forecasts.”

Since then, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that sea level rise this century would be more like seven inches to 23 inches.

With that in mind, Hall asked Holdren why Americans should believe his positions and spend tax dollars to do further research on climate change.

“Your projection of potential sea rise level was over 11 feet higher than even the worst scenario case projected by your colleagues less than a year ago, so this is more than just a few of us Republicans that need to be educated on the issue,” Hall said.

“Given the disparity of these projections, why should the American taxpayer have confidence in the administration’s assurance of global calamities to come or trust your climate change education campaign?” Hall asked.

In response, Holdren said: “Every major national academy of sciences in the world, and virtually all of the major professional societies that deal with the relevant disciplines have issued statements saying that the evidence for climate change outside the realm of natural variability is overwhelming, that we have very strong reason to believe that human activity is responsible for a large part of this change, that harm is already occurring from these changes and that the harm will grow unless and until we stabilize and begin to reduce our emissions."

“This is not the view of a few isolated scientists, this is the overwhelming view of scientists who study this matter around the world," said Holdren.

“There are always skeptics, there are always heretics; that’s in the nature of science," he said.

Another committee member, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), scolded the science advisor for using the term “deniers” – a term usually used to describe those who deny that the Holocaust occurred – to refer to global warming skeptics.

Rohrabacher asked: “Doctor, in the past you’ve made public statements referring to those who question your assessment on man-made climate change as – and you have labeled them as – ‘deniers.’ The term deniers is only commonly used in one other context and that is to question whether or not the Holocaust actually took place. Do you believe that this is an appropriate term, and what purpose does it serve except to stifle debate rather than to have an honest discussion?”

Holdren said he regretted using the term.

“Congressman Rohrabacher, when I used the term, I only intended to use it in its most straightforward interpretation,” Holdren responded. “These are folks who are denying the reality of a particular thing, namely climate change. It was not my intention to compare them to Holocaust deniers and to the extent that that’s the impression given, I regret it, and for that reason I will doubtless choose to use other words in the future.”

Holdren came to the committee to defend a budget request from President Obama that asks for a 20 percent increase in funding for “global change research.”

In his written testimony, Holdren stated, “Specifically, the 2012 Budget provides $2.6 billion for the multi-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)—an increase of 20.3 percent or $446 million over the 2010 enacted level—to continue its important work of improving our ability to understand, predict, project, mitigate, and adapt to climate change.”

Hall, meanwhile, was skeptical about such spending in light out the United States’ $14 trillion national debt.

“This level of spending is simply not sustainable,” Hall said in his opening remarks, later adding, “(T)he administration’s FY12 research and development budget, at least as it pertains to a majority of the agencies within this committee’s jurisdiction, continues a heavily weighted focus on climate change, oftentimes taking money from other worthy investments.”

“From 2006 to now, we have spent $36 billion on climate change and what do we have to show for it? A lot of programs and pamphlets. We need to change that.”

The following is a partial transcript of the exchange between Rep. Hall and Dr. Holdren:

REP. RALPH HALL (R-Texas), chairman, House Science, Space and Technology Committee: "Your projection of potential sea rise level was over eleven feet higher than even the worst scenario case projected by your colleagues less than a year ago, so this is more than just a few of us Republicans that need to be educated on the issue. Given the disparity of these projections, why should the American taxpayer have confidence in the administration’s assurance of global calamities to come or trust your climate change education campaign?"

JOHN HOLDREN, director, Office of Science and Technology Policy: "Well let me say first of all, Mr. Chairman, I want to clarify that in the interview you mentioned, I was not asked about Republicans as a whole; I was asked, what do you plan to do in relation to those members of Congress who believe that climate change is not a fact—is not real. And I said in relation to that particular question that I thought this was a matter of education because the scientific facts on the reality of climate change are very robust indeed."

DR. HOLDREN: "Every major national academy of sciences in the world, and virtually all of the major professional societies that deal with the relevant disciplines have issued statements saying that the evidence for climate change outside the realm of natural variability is overwhelming, that we have very strong reason to believe that human activity is responsible for a large part of this change, that harm is already occurring from these changes and that the harm will grow unless and until we stabilize and begin to reduce our emissions. This is not the view of a few isolated scientists, this is the overwhelming view of scientists who study this matter around the world. You will be able to produce on the witness stand a few who will say they don’t believe it, but they are cery much in the minority. You could also produce people on this witness stand, who will say, with PhD’s attached to their names, that they don’t believe cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. There are always skeptics, there are always heretics; that’s in the nature of science. But public policy, in my judgment, should be based on the mainstream view because to base it otherwise is to risk the well-being of the public against very long odds."