The new Republican-controlled House in the 118th Congress will apparently move to eliminate the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. This is the classic “head in the sand, don’t bother me with the facts” behavior we’ve come to expect from Republicans — and it’s dangerous.
The House Select Committee could never be a threat to the GOP’s retrospective, pro-fossil fuel agenda. It has never proposed any legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions and it never will. Environmental bills of this type can only be drafted and proposed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It’s only within that committee that climate legislation to reduce climate change can begin its tortuous path to debate and potential Senate passage for assent. Not exactly the “School House Rock” story of a bill we grew up with.
So what’s right with the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. First of all, it is bipartisan. It is chaired by the Democratic Republic. Kathy Castor from hurricane-hit 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’s majority includes a representative from Colorado, where droughts have wreaked havoc in recent years, as well as a representative from Texas, which now deals with deadly winter storms in addition to summer heat waves and drought.
Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana is the ranking member of the minority. She is joined by Republican representatives from Alabama, California, West Virginia, Texas and Ohio, all states that have seen damage from extreme events attributed at least in part to climate change.
The Select Committee formed in 2019 brought its members together 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 infrastructure topic, “Investing in Transportation to Solve the Climate Crisis.” The key point that finally emerged was that it is probably not possible to get long-term investments right if climate risk is not taken into account.
The environmental community has always been critical of these hearings because their even split of handpicked witnesses by Democrats and Republicans has always made it seem like climate change is a 50-50 proposition. In fact, the Congressional Record is the only climate risk record that reflects that fiction. The scientific consensus is overwhelming on man-made climate change.
But the Select Committee has never proposed a price for carbon. Nor did he call for limiting oil or gas exploration. And he certainly didn’t call the coal mines shut down. These may all be good ideas in the minds of many, but Republicans need not fear that the Select Committee will ever investigate them. Or hold hearings on them. Instead, the Select Committee heeded climate scientist John Holdren’s insight that the country has three choices when it comes to climate change: cull, adapt, or suffer. And they wanted to reduce suffering.
It was in actually dealing with the third choice that the select committee decided to spend their capital. Their hearings brought climate risks to the fore and put them on the public record, but not in the abstract. The idea was to factor climate risk into public and private investment decisions so that public or private money is not wasted and lives are not lost unnecessarily.
You only have to pay attention to the attributed climate impacts spread across the nation and the world to know that the Select Committee was onto something major. People need to be informed by whatever means are available so that their suffering can be minimized whatever the country or the world’s despondent stance.
So why eliminate the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis? Because even its narrow truth is a nuisance. And, of course, because it was created under the presidency of Nancy Pelosi. Its dismantling is, then and perhaps more 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.