Falling Rocks, Rising Seas? No, an Avalanche of Unreality

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing on climate change in mid-May that will go down as one of the most farcical performances by government officials since the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup.

Ostensibly, the purpose of the hearing was to examine how technology could be deployed for climate change adaptation. Just a few weeks before, a study commissioned by the Pentagon had warned that rising sea levels were threatening critical U.S. military assets in the Pacific Ocean. So there were serious matters of national security at stake.

But the hearing soon devolved into absurdist theater as one Republican congressman after another trotted out their pet objections to climate science.

 

A cause of rising sea levels? The White Cliffs of Dover. Photo by jpellgen licensed under CC by-NC-ND 2.0.

As reported by E&E News, Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and former senior adviser to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, was testifying when things began to unravel. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) charged that established climate science had been “beaten into our heads” and he questioned whether climate change was caused by human activities.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the committee, then entered into the fray, displaying a slide of two charts that he said made clear that the rate of sea-level rise has not been commensurate with the sharp rise in the consumption of fossil fuels. Duffy noted that Smith’s chart drew on data from only one tide gauge station, near San Francisco, and patiently explained that sea levels rise at different rates around the world.

“It’s accurate, but it doesn’t represent what’s happening globally; it represents what’s happening in San Francisco,” Duffy said.

At this point, having drifted far from the topic of how to use technology to address climate change, the hearing reached a near epic moment of ridiculousness: Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), pointing to the California coastline and the White Cliffs of Dover, insisted that falling rocks were a major factor in the rise of sea levels. He also said that silt washing into the ocean from the world’s major rivers was contributing to sea-level rise.

“Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise, because now you have less space in those oceans, because the bottom is moving up,” Brooks said.

Clearly, the bottom was not just moving up; it had taken over. Having spent most of two hours trying valiantly to correct one misstatement after another, Duffy retired from the field. “No, Mo Brooks, it’s not the rocks falling into the ocean that are raising the sea level,” one could imagine Duffy thinking to himself, “it’s the avalanche of American minds disconnecting themselves from reality that’s causing it.”

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