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Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) opens his hearing on climate change, which was webcast.

Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) opens his hearing on climate change, which was webcast.

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

From a bully pulpit, Ted Cruz offers his take on climate change

At the end of the first hearing he’s chaired on climate change, Senator Ted Cruz (R–TX) laid out a set of facts intended to disprove the claims of those he calls “global warming alarmists.” But the bits of information that Cruz presented yesterday are either irrelevant to, or at odds with, what is actually happening to Earth’s climate.

Cruz believes that carbon dioxide (CO2) “is good for plant life,” that the planet “is greener right now” than in the past, and that “for significant periods in history, prior to the industrial revolution, there has been markedly more CO2 in our atmosphere that could not have come from the burning of fossil fuels.” He also believes that “for the past 18 years … there has been no significant warming whatsoever” and that the current computer models used to understand global climate trends “are profoundly wrong … and inconsistent with the evidence and the data.”

At the same time, Cruz did not acknowledge that carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning have more than quadrupled since the 1950s and that the amount of C02 in the atmosphere has climbed by one-third, to nearly 400 parts per million, over that period. Asked by ScienceInsider whether he agrees that such data are correct, Cruz declined to comment.

Cruz laid out his views during a 3-hour piece of political theater staged by the science panel of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which he chairs. He provided a forum for three scientists known for their contrarian views on climate change—John Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and William Happer of Princeton University. Cruz also welcomed a journalist/jazz musician, Mark Steyn, and had staff set a place for a nonwitness, Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, who hadn’t even officially been invited to testify.

Cruz got what he wanted, including a shouting match between Steyn and a flustered Senator Edward Markey (D–MA) after Steyn demanded that Markey tell him what percentage of rising global temperatures was due to human activity. It was the first time this reporter had ever seen a witness grill a member of Congress at a hearing; Cruz sat back and let the drama unfold.

None of it would matter much except that Cruz is running for president, and this week a poll showed him leading in Iowa, the first chance for U.S. voters to winnow the crowded Republican field.

The hearing gave Cruz a chance to flesh out his views on a topic that his Republican rivals have generally ignored, and is generally considered a second- or third-tier issue for voters. But the 44-year-old lawyer and first-term legislator avoided the “I’m not a scientist” position of mainstream candidates, noting that “I’m the son of two mathematicians/computer programmers.” He opened the hearing by saying his goal was to explore “the science behind claims of global warming.” The title of the hearing, however, may have been a more accurate description of Cruz’s intentions: “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Climate Change.”

Cruz apparently got the answer he wanted from his witnesses: The international scientific community won’t entertain the possibility that its analyses are flawed, they told him, and scientists worried about climate change have joined with policymakers to ensure that their views prevail. “One of the most disturbing things we heard at the hearing,” Cruz told reporters afterward, was the “culture of suppression of dissent, driven politically by global warming alarmists and those in control of the funding stream.”

 As per congressional ground rules, the minority Democrats were allowed to invite one witness. The Democrats chose David Titley, a retired rear admiral and former oceanographer for the Navy who is now a professor at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. It’s a cliché to say that one person was the voice of reason in an otherwise chaotic setting. But Titley performed that role, to the point of bailing out Markey by explaining that global temperatures are affected by natural and internal variability, over which people have no control, as well as by human activity. “And I think that the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and many other bodies agree that the human-caused forcing is very, very significant,” he said.

Cruz has not translated his views into any proposed legislation. That’s not surprising: His icy relations with his Republican colleagues in the Senate, much less with Democrats, have essentially blocked him from the dealmaking needed to implement any of his ideas.

But legislating is not his goal; rather, Cruz prefers a debate in which he can win political points. Yesterday’s hearing fit that mold: He ended it by listing seven “facts” to which Democrats have offered “no effective response.”

Those facts include his belief in the benefits of CO2 and the additional greenery covering the planet, and his disdain for the staggering amount of evidence on how rising carbon emissions have affected air and ocean temperatures, ocean acidity, the polar regions, inland glaciers, and sea levels. Cruz also brushes aside how those emissions have disrupted what Titley called “the climate stability” that has allowed modern civilization to flourish.

The hearing didn’t change anyone’s mind. But it gave Cruz a chance to explain where he stands on the issue. The next move is up to voters—and the scientific community.