As it turns out, one of the doors into the international conversation about global warming opens through Hays County.
That’s because the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a San Antonio native whose district includes big parts of Hays County west of Interstate 35.
Rep. Smith’s committee oversees most scientific research at the federal level, and he has been a prominent critic of President Obama’s efforts to address climate change and reduce air-polluting emissions in the United States.
A member of the Tea Party Caucus, Smith has been in Congress since the 1980s, and is often described as an influential voice within the House. He’s an affable fellow who keeps in touch with local Republicans and community leaders, and is a sometimes visitor to this newspaper, where his friendly nature and willingness to check in are always appreciated.
But there are times when his science policies seem to tilt as much toward ideology and wishful thinking as, well, toward science.
This week his House committee posted a report from a discredited “news” source that seemed to show that rising temperatures across the Earth are not as dramatic as have been reported in more mainstream publications (like National Geographic, science journals, and most newspapers) and that it can be attributed mostly to natural cycles. The headline posted by the committee – originally from a sensationalistic British tabloid by way of Breitbart News – indicated that scientists who believe in world-wide climate change were stunned and keeping quiet about this revelation.
Only it’s not true.
The data referred to in the committee’s post looked only at temperature readings over land and did not include data from areas covered by oceans, a majority of the Earth’s surface. Also, reputable climate scientists do already take into account El Niño and La Niña weather cycles when discussing industrial society’s affects on climate.
In short order, top research scientists from the federal government and universities have stepped in to correct the record. Climate change is so undeniable at this point that the American military actively plans for it, and cities across the county – especially in coastal regions – are spending real dollars to address problems that are already evident, such as “sunny day” flooding in Miami Beach. There is no pretending away the scientific consensus that human activity is a contributing factor.
Of course, none of us know yet exactly what form climate change will take across the diverse geography of Texas, or the world. Few of his constituents will complain if Rep. Smith and his colleagues take a cautious course; very few of us, indeed, want to give up our cars, air conditioning and fossil fuel industries all together.
But we do look to our leaders in science, and in government, to embrace good data, to follow fearlessly where it leads, and, above all, to be careful with the public record on questions of such significance. There is no place for junk science or warmed-over campaign rhetoric in setting the science agenda for what is now – and we pray shall forever be – the greatest scientific and technological nation the world has known.
As the past few years of flooding have demonstrated so forcefully, Hays County is particularly vulnerable to severe weather, and so, perhaps, at greater risk to the spikes in weather extremes that may be one part of broader climate change.
We look to you, Chairman Smith, for leadership in assessing, managing, and mitigating this risk – for us and the country. Don’t let us down.