Climate Science Isn’t Settled, Energy Secretary Perry Testifies

Published August 16, 2017

At a hearing before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Energy Secretary Rick Perry disagreed with Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) view human greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change.

During the June 22 hearing, Perry acknowledged climate is changing but said he did not believe human carbon dioxide emissions are the main cause.

“If the climate is changing and you disagree that carbon dioxide is the driver, what do you think is driving the change?” Franken asked Perry. 

‘Naturally Occurring Events’

“I think there are some other naturally occurring events, the warming and the cooling of our ocean waters, other activities that occur,” Perry said. 

In support of his claim, Perry cited Steven Koonin, a physicist who served as undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration.

“He [Koonin] said that the science isn’t settled yet, and I ask the committee, and I’ll ask you, don’t you think it’s o.k. to have this conversation about the science of climate change?” Perry said. 

Why No Debate?

Responding to Perry, Franken mistakenly claimed Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California–Berkeley, said in a 2012 New York Times op-ed, “Humans are entirely the cause” of global warming. 

To which Perry responded, citing Koonin, “Why don’t we have a red team approach?”

Koonin suggested having a debate between a “red team” of climate skeptics and a “blue team” of scientists who argue humans are driving climate change, in an April 20, 2017 Wall Street Journal op-ed. Koonin noted face-offs between teams holding conflicting views are a standard practice in national security matters. 

Isaac Orr, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says many climate scientists have overemphasized the human role in climate change. 

“The earth has warmed about 1 degree C since the late 1800s, but half of this warming occurred before 1950, when only about 10 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions had occurred,” said Orr. “Therefore, attributing all of the warming since the end of the Little Ice Age to human activity is problematic.”

Missed Opportunity?

James Taylor, president of the Spark of Freedom Foundation, says Franken missed an opportunity to agree with Perry on one important aspect of the climate and energy debate.

“Sen. Franken missed a golden opportunity to advance common-ground energy policy,” Taylor said. “Franken attempted to pick a fight with Secretary Perry on the finer points of climate science when they both agree on appropriate policy solutions. 

“Perry is a strong advocate of emissions-free nuclear power, and Franken also supports nuclear power, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Taylor. “Why pick an irrelevant fight on science details when both agree on an energy policy that would dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions?”

Taylor says many climate believers share many climate skeptics’ support for nuclear power.

“The true consensus in the climate debate is support for nuclear power,” said Taylor. “Skeptics and conservatives support nuclear power as a more affordable and reliable alternative to wind and solar energy, while prominent scientists concerned about global warming, such as James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira, Tom Wigley, and Richard Muller, support nuclear energy as an emissions-free power source.” 

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.