As chairman of a congressional science subcommittee, Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) dismissed evidence of global warming as "junk science" and "liberal claptrap." Rising temperatures? Melting glaciers? Pounding rain where snow once fell and tropical heat-wave-driven storms cutting ever-stronger and ever-deadlier swaths?
Don't bug the congressman with mere facts.
The surfing congressman's grip on non-reality was most recently put to the test by a blue-ribbon panel of the National Research Council (NRC), which revealed that the warming of the Earth's surface is "undoubtedly real." Temperatures during the past two decades have risen at a rate substantially greater than average for the past 100 years, the panel found.
Asked for a reaction to the findings, Rohrabacher said the researchers answered the wrong question. "The question isn't whether the Earth is getting a little warmer. What is causing it to get a little warmer? No report I've seen has said the minuscule increase in temperatures over the past 100 years can be traced to industrialization and human-economic activity."
How does Rohrabacher account for the rise? "My guess is that we've got a little bit of warming going on as part of a long trend that started with the fact the glaciers are receding, as compared to a time in history when they were moving forward," Rohrabacher said. "Over millions of years, there have been many cycles where glaciers are either moving forward or backward because of temperature changes.
"Global warming is just one of the many excuses those people have found to justify their efforts," he said. "There are people who believe that free enterprise is a travesty. They want to see human energy directed by government officials or elected officials. And I believe global warming—which I call 'global baloney'—is an attempt to latch on to some clich to frighten the public into lining the pockets of well-paid researchers and gain certain leverage over people through the political system."
But the panelists were not tree-hugging, hemp-wearing, incense-burning environmentalists, like those who work at the Weekly. The NRC, which works under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences, is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. Panelists were drawn from such diverse institutions as the University of Alabama, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Heck, the study was even partially funded by private industry—the Aluminum Corporation of America.
Critics of global warming have pointed out that if the Earth were truly getting hotter, the upper atmosphere (about five miles up) should be warming, too, because of that ancient physical law: heat rises.
The research council conceded there has been little if any warming of upper-atmosphere temperatures. But panel chairman John Wallace, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, noted, "The differences between the surface and upper-air trends in no way invalidates the conclusion that the Earth's temperature is rising."
The panel speculates that while one combination of human activities and natural causes has contributed to rising surface temperatures, other human and natural forces have cooled the upper atmosphere. To find out more, the panel recommended the development of a better climate-monitoring system. But that would cost money—and guess which congressman chaired the Science Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment that in 1998 cut funds for climate monitoring and renewable energy research?
Dana Rohrabacher, come on down!
He no longer chairs the subcommittee, but he remains an influential member. He credited the GOP's takeover of the House and his subcommittee chairmanship with "finally" giving members of Congress an opportunity to hear both sides of the global-warming debate.
"Advocates of global warming couldn't make a case when there were experts on the other side," Rohrabacher said. "In fact, by the end of the hearings, some advocates of global warming were claiming it might be global cooling we're looking at."
The congressman said it's difficult for him to take seriously "predictions of something dire for the world based on a very debatable blip in the temperature of the planet—especially when they try and tell us there is a major catastrophe for our weather system in the decades and 100 years ahead when they can't even predict the weather next week."
He recalled a recent White House meeting on global warming that just happened to be held on a rainy day. "Three or four people hadn't bothered to bring an umbrella," he said.
"All my life, I've seen experts who will get paid more money if their point of view is heeded get proved wrong," he said. "Global warming is just like that, and we're transferring millions of dollars to the white-coated experts in the meantime."
Some white-coated experts say greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere will remain there for a century even if all further emissions are cut off immediately.
Even that's not enough to sway Rohrabacher—neither is the fact that Big Biz is coming around on global warming. Oil company BP Amoco says the issue demands a "serious response." Ford Motors allows that because its customers are concerned about rising temperatures, Ford is, too. And a subgroup of Fortune 500 companies known as the Business Roundtable has called on the U.S. government to encourage advanced-technology development that addresses climate changes.
The congressman's reaction?
"Well, I've never taken my cues from big industry," he said with a chuckle.
He may not take big industry's cues, but he takes its money. Of the $80,040 Rohrabacher has raised so far to win re-election in November, 79 percent has come from business. In the 1997-1998 cycle, business accounted for 82 percent of his $316,704 total.
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The reason is clear: Rohrabacher has been one of big business' steadiest votes, especially where those votes concern "science," and more so when the science involves gold-plated military technology programs like Star Wars. In hearings and votes that would have directly benefited key Rohrabacher contributors—including Boeing, Loral Systems and Hughes Aircraft—Rohrabacher sought two years ago to reanimate the moribund, Reagan-era anti-missile program nicknamed for the 1970s-era sci-fi movie. But with the Soviet Union on the ash heap of history, where was the enemy against whose missiles the Stars Wars program would be deployed? Incoming interstellar asteroids—like the killer-cosmic scuds depicted in the 1998 sci-fi movies Deep Impactand Armageddon.
However, it's more likely that Rohrabacher acts from ideological—rather than merely financial or even cinematic—considerations. If scientists establish a link between global warming and industry, that would seem to demand massive government intervention. Rohrabacher, a student leader of the libertarian movement in the 1960s, would likely rather suck on a muffler pipe than acknowledge there's a legitimate role for government in global warming.
Or perhaps not a muffler pipe. Confronted with bacteria-induced beach closures in his district last summer, Rohrabacher reacted then as he has now: by casting doubt upon the evidence, arguing for go-slow government policies, and demanding further study—tactics not so much libertarian as Luddite.
In Dana's world, shit in the ocean and alarming weather trends should not fool Americans into giving in to "people who want to give the government the power to regulate and control more of the world's economic activities."