WASHINGTON—Four of the world's top physical scientists told Congress on Thursday that there's little doubt the world is getting warmer because of mankind's influences. They painted a dire portrait of rising sea levels, worsening storms and widespread droughts, which they said could result if humanity doesn't change its ways.
The panel's appearance raised the curtain on the political theater that will be the global warming debate in a Democratic Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., broke ground by testifying before a House committee; a Republican lawmaker insisted on cross-examining her; and others peppered the scientists with questions about dinosaur flatulence and China's fleet of coal plants.
"Does (it) mean to stop this increase in methane we've got to put catalytic converters on the backs of cows?" Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., asked one scientist.
Still, some of the questions reflected the gathering support in Congress for the science behind climate change. House Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., said he thinks there's a veto-proof majority to develop an agency that would focus technology on alternative energy and lowering the use of fossil fuels.
"We're going to have good legislation that's going to move this ball forward," Gordon said.
Four years ago, Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who chaired the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."
But the latest climate change report from a United Nations commission shows agreement from thousands of scientists and more than 100 countries, including the United States, that global warming exists.
And there is a 90 percent certainty that humanity largely caused it, the report says.
The report, presented last week in Paris, reflects six years of scientific assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Scientific evidence is now very strong that humans are changing the climate," Richard Alley, a Penn State University professor and a lead author of the report, said in an interview. "This is getting to the pound-on-the-table point now."
For the first time in recent history, a House speaker testified before a House committee.
Pelosi, seated alone at the witness table, spoke for 15 minutes against the clicking of a half-dozen photographers' shutters. An overflow crowd poured into the hallway.
"Where once we thought the effects of global warming would occur decades away, change is already under way," Pelosi said.
Pelosi plans to form a select committee on global warming and energy independence, a move that already has pitted her against Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who says his Energy and Commerce Committee holds jurisdiction over such matters.
Dingell met behind closed doors with the scientific panel Thursday afternoon before the scientists went to a similar hearing in the Senate.
In the House hearing, Sensenbrenner invoked a House rule to insist on questioning Pelosi despite the usual courtesies members receive as witnesses.
He was allowed to ask Pelosi to pledge that she'll take American jobs into consideration when shaping global warming legislation.
"This isn't about running roughshod," she responded. "This is about working in a bipartisan way."
Later, several members asked the scientists to venture how best to quell global warming and whether the United States could lead the way when competitive nations such as China were opening coal plants every three days.
If cows are partly responsible for methane gases, Sensenbrenner said, that "could hit Wisconsin's economy right between the horns."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., an outspoken skeptic of global warming, questioned whether the temperature changes weren't cyclical.
"We don't know what the other cycles were caused by in the past," he said. "It could be dinosaur flatulence. Who knows?"
Rohrabacher said he would offer a list of "hundreds" of scientists who dispute global warming's human causes, then blamed his own party for not having any of them testifying Thursday.
"It's our fault," he said.
Global warming is gathering interest from some in the GOP. Next week, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will come to Washington to propose making national a sweeping California law to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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