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Sen. Hagel Calls on Sound Science to Dictate the Climate Change Debate

By James K. Glassman - June 13, 2001 12:00 AM

Science and technology need to take the lead in resolving issues of climate change, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., tells TechCentralStation host James Glassman. "Only with sound science as the base -- not emotionalism; not political, arbitrary decisions and baselines and treaties that try to deal with something that we don't understand - will we come up with the right conclusions that will precipitate the right policies and actions to deal with whatever is going on," he says. The Senate, he notes, wouldn't give the necessary 67 votes to enact the United Nations' negotiated Kyoto Protocol, which would require deep cuts in U.S. carbon emissions. But Congress should provide as much money as is needed to answer questions about climate change, he says.

James K. Glassman: Senator, in a statement Sunday, you applauded President Bush for his stand on the climate change issue and you repeated the importance of focusing on science and technology as the answer. Do you feel that science and technology can lead the way or that or that limits are needed now on carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases?

Sen. Chuck Hagel: I've always believed that, like any issue, climate change must be grounded on sound science. I don't understand how you could develop policy to take action on an issue as complicated and diverse as climate change without sound science. Sound science should drive any action and policy that is initiated. Once that policy and action are determined, then it will be, in fact, technology that drives that action. You can't have, it seems to me, one without the other. But the beginning point, the baseline, is sound science.

Glassman: The National Academy of Sciences panel reported on the state of the science last week, and the press made it sound as though the situation has increased in its urgency. What was your impression of the NAS report?

Hagel: One of the 11 scientists who were authors of that report, Richard Lindzen, a meteorologist with MIT, had a very enlightened piece in The Wall Street Journal, which laid out the summary very clearly. One of the things that he points out is that the National Academy of Sciences report was probably most significant for saying that we have very large gaps in our understanding of climate change and the reasons for climate change. One of the points he makes is that you can't take a 20-year span and somehow apply that as sufficient information and knowledge to then determine policy and actions climate change.

The National Academy of Sciences report itself points out many of those wide gaps -- things that we don't know about. It also talked about the modeling problems we have to project the causes and consequences of climate change. I think those are factors that really didn't get any recognition in the media's presentation of the National Academy of Sciences report.

Glassman: How do we go about filling in the gaps? Is there a way for industry to combine with government in building a research program to do just that?

Hagel: That was one of the points that the president made very explicitly in his speech before heading off to Europe. There must be strong collaboration between government, industry, business and the private sector, not only to develop the science but also to find the relevant technology to address the issue of climate change. The president intends to lead on that point, and some of my colleagues, Sens. Murkowski, Craig, Byrd and others, as well as myself have submitted legislation which focuses more on this.

We must all come together and harness the resources that both government and the private sector possess to deal with this, therein lies part of the answer to these gaps. For example, the United States has one supercomputer model to deal with this, in the Department of Energy where is should be. But it is consumed with the other responsibilities that the Department of Energy has. We need to get more supercomputer capacity to deal with some of these factors. These things can be blended together and there is a role for both government and the private sector to work together.

Glassman: Are you saying that it's important for U.S. science to get involved and help drive policy rather than European-developed science, which might be more political?

Hagel: Oh, absolutely. I have an abiding faith in our science institutions and our abilities in this country to work our way through the tough, challenging issues of our time. Look at the space programs and what we've done in any realm of science or medicine. We have excelled above all others. So, we need to get American science harnessed. Once we accomplish what the president was talking about, then we'll deal with this issue. It is a serious issue. Sound science needs to be the base - not emotionalism; not political, arbitrary decisions and baselines and treaties. This will precipitate the right policies and actions to deal with whatever is going on.

Glassman: Are you willing to get behind legislation that would commit large sums of money to harness American science behind finding out what's really going on with the climate.

Hagel: I'm willing to commit the resources we need in order to find the answers that will give us the kind of policy to deal with these issues. I don't know what that number is.

Glassman: But at this point, you believe that the science is unsettled as far as climate change is concerned?

Hagel: I think it's very clear that it's unsettled. When you look at the inconsistencies of the last 100 years, most of the warming came in the first 40 years, when you didn't have the kind of explosive manmade greenhouse gas emissions that you've had in the last 60. We then had a stable cooling, and then, in the last 10 years, an increase. The inconsistencies of this are still very much the norm, not the exception.

Glassman: If you were to submit a Hagel-Byrd resolution today (Ed. Note: The Hagel-Byrd resolution, passed 95-0, declared that Senate would not ratify any treaty that did not include all nations of the world under the same binding conditions as the United States or cause economic harm to the United States) to the Senate would the vote be the same as it was in '97?

Hagel: I don't see how you change much. I certainly wouldn't change any provision in Byrd-Hagel and wouldn't want to amplify on it much from what it is now.

Glassman: Would you actually want to re-submit it or submit a new resolution or do you think it's clear where the Senate stands?

Hagel: Well, I don't think it's necessary we re-submit anything. I know there has been some conversation about the possibility of some of my colleagues putting together a new resolution on this issue, but I think it's pretty clear what that resolution states. There may be variations of the interpretations of its two main points but in the end, I don't think we're remotely close to getting 67 votes to ratify the Kyoto protocol.

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