Bad Astronomy

Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA): on climate change, makes wrong even wronger

Sadly, I am not surprised when I hear a Republican congressman make some sort of grotesquely antiscience statement. It’s all too common now, and seems hardly worth noting except to throw it on the ever-growing pile of political distortions of reality the GOP is now known for. But sometimes, one comes along that is so outrageous and ridiculous it must be noted. Enter Dana Rohrabacher. He is a far-right Republican in California, and toes the GOP stance of climate change denial. Recently, he made a statement that’s pretty bizarre, and it’s making the rounds on the internet. There was a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee (which he chairs) about UN climate policies and the US contributions to it. On the stand as a witness was the “top U.S. climate diplomat” Todd Stern… and Rohrabacher asked him this:

“Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rainforests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases? … Or would people be supportive of cutting down older trees in order to plant younger trees as a means to prevent this disaster from happening?”
Say WHAT? The idea here is that decaying matter in rainforests is emitting a lot of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. Rohrabacher seems to be saying that if we cut down old trees in rain forests there will be less decay, and therefore less CO2 emission. This is such a bizarre statement it’s hard to know where to start. But first, yes, decaying matter does make CO2, and as rainforest leaves and such fall to the ground they do rot. But the far more important fact is that while they live these trees absorb CO2, and in fact absorb far more over their lifetime than they emit when they die. They are what scientists would call a net sink of CO2, not a source. So cutting them down would in reality increase CO2 emission. Not to mention that there might be other problems with cutting thousands of square kilometers of rainforest. Unsurprisingly, Representative Rohrabacher’s statements are getting him lambasted across the web, so I decided to go to his site and see if he had a followup to it. He does, and oh my, it’s a beaut:
Once again those with a global agenda have created a straw man by misrepresenting the position of their critics. I do not believe that CO2 is a cause of global warming, nor have I ever advocated the reduction of CO2 through the clearing of rainforests or cutting down older trees to prevent global warming. But that is how my question to a witness during my subcommittee hearing on May 25th is being reported. I simply asked the witness, Dr. Todd Stern, who is a supporter of a global climate treaty that would dramatically hurt the standard of living for millions of human beings, if he was considering a policy that would address naturally emitted carbon dioxide, which makes up over 90% of emissions.

To suggest that I’m advocating such a radical approach instead of simply questioning the policy is a total misrepresentation of my position.
OK, let me do this: I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and agree that he might have been taken out of context. It’s happened before. But that hardly matters, because he says simply and clearly he doesn’t think CO2 is a cause of global warming. That’s not out of context, or a misquote of any kind. Those are his own words, and they dwarf any statement about rainforests, whether it was out of context or straight. That’s because his denial of the contribution of carbon dioxide to global warming tosses out the window the careful and meticulous results of thousands of climate scientists across the world and across the decades. It’s breathtaking in its hubris and arrogance. But it’s not surprising. Rep. Rohrabacher’s web page about climate change is almost a textbook case of global warming denialism, right down to his linking to a thoroughly trashed petition against climate change. And he joins in lockstep many of his Republican congressmen in such antireality beliefs. The transparency of this denial is amazing. The vast majority of climate scientists on Earth say that climate change is real, it’s caused by greenhouse gases, and the human contribution to both is important. I’d say this was an undeniable conclusion, but clearly denial can be a force far stronger than logic.  
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