Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican official in charge of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has now penned an editorial urging the public not to buy into “hysteria over carbon dioxide,” which he believes could actually be good for us.
The post, which can be viewed over at the fossil fuel-industry backed Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal blog, is full of highly misleading or downright nonsensical arguments about how mankind’s decision to burn as much of the fossil fuel the Earth has accumulated in the past billion years as fast as possible could have benefits that are “often ignored and under-researched.”
Smith, it seems, has clued in to the fact that one of the things plants require to create energy is carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for humanity’s impact on the climate to date. Because plants love CO2 so much, Smith argued, pumping lots of it into the atmosphere could result in “greater volume of food production and better quality food,” as well as “lush vegetation” in formerly desolate areas of the globe.
Smith has literally entered Natural News territory. These claims are just bunk, scientifically, seeing as peer-reviewed studies suggest any increase in agricultural production from more CO2 in the atmosphere will likely be more than offset by losses from more extreme temperatures and droughts. Any benefits that could be derived would similarly be inconsistent and probably canceled out as the globe continued to warm.
More plants is not necessarily a good thing, because some of them are crop-destroying weeds, and others could disrupt existing ecosystems.
Bonus points: Smith, who again is the House’s top science legislator, has no idea what the difference between a controlled environment and everywhere else is.
“In fact, atmospheric carbon dioxide is so important for plant health that greenhouses often use a carbon dioxide generator to increase production,” Smith wrote.
This is a little like saying fires keep people warm, so you should set your house on fire.
“Also, as the Earth warms, we are seeing beneficial changes to the earth’s geography,” Smith added, noting “Arctic sea ice is decreasing.” While scientists would have you believe disappearing ice in the northern hemisphere could contribute to devastating sea level rise that would flood coastal cities, Smith is just pleased as punch it could result in “commercial shipping lanes that provide faster, more convenient, and less costly routes between ports in Asia, Europe, and eastern North America.”
Look, new sea lanes are good and all, but a pretty small consolation prize given that rising sea levels are already screwing up existing ones with icebergs and canal disruptions (and, if humans burn all the fossil fuels on the planet, may potentially cause an apocalyptic event).
The rest of Smith’s post has nothing to do with the benefits of a warming climate per se, but touting how the “use of fossil fuels and the byproducts of carbon enrichment” has improved everyone’s lives. While that’s perhaps true, the long-term consequences of continuing to do so are a completely different issue.
Arguments such as these have long been de rigueur within the small community of industry-friendly climate scientists and the energy industry’s much larger army of lobbyists, but they are little more than speculative “what ifs.” They’re not backed by the science—but because it has become completely untenable to deny climate change is happening at all while the Earth is roasting, Republicans opposed to doing anything about it have to come up with something.
Also, it might help one of Smith’s biggest campaign contributors is the oil and gas sector, which has given him $705,147 over the course of his career, including over $100,000 during the 2015-2016 cycle alone, per OpenSecrets.
“It is clear that Lamar Smith has progressed” and “is slowly advancing through the stages of denial,” prolific Penn State climatologist Michael E. Mann, author of climate change denial guidebook The Madhouse Effect, told Gizmodo via email.
Mann added Smith has “apparently now moved from ‘its not happening,’ to ‘ok—it’s happening, but IT WILL BE GOOD FOR US!’ One step at a time I suppose, but at least there is some apparent progress toward the truth (that climate change is real, human-caused, and already a problem).”
Update: This post has been updated to clarify that while the overall trend of melting ice, including Arctic land ice, is contributing to sea level rise, the loss of Arctic sea ice only indirectly contributes to it.