Congress just proved there is hope for honest discussion on climate

Congress just proved there is hope for honest discussion on climate
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This month the two of us — both climate scientists — testified about climate change and solutions before the science committee in the House of Representatives.

One of us was called to testify by the Democratic majority. One of us was called to testify by the Republican minority. In previous years, two witnesses in our roles would have been at odds, tasked with debating the severity or very existence of human-caused climate change. For a decade, congressional hearings on climate science were contentious and disconnected from physical reality. During a House Science Committee hearing just a year ago, Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksGOP lawmaker blasts Omar and Tlaib: Netanyahu right to block 'enemies' of Israel Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE of Alabama made headlines by suggesting that observed sea level rise is caused by erosion and rocks falling into the ocean — ignoring the real causes: melting ice and thermal expansion fueled by manmade global warming.

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But this time, instead of arguing, we agreed. We agreed that rising temperatures are being caused by industrial pollution, deforestation and other human activities. We agreed that the impacts on society are already occurring. And we agreed on the need for immediate action to avoid worse impacts. This shift is nothing short of a sea-change, long overdue. 

And our agreement was (largely) mirrored by the committee. We were thrilled that the vast majority of the committee’s questions focused on climate science, and how to address the impacts of climate change. An enormous amount of credit goes to House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight to take center stage at Dem debate Overnight Energy: Dems subpoena Perry in impeachment inquiry | EPA to overhaul rules on lead contamination tests | Commerce staff wrote statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump Commerce staff drafted statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump's hurricane predictions MORE (D-Texas) and Ranking Member Rep. Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Overnight Energy: Solar installations dropped in 2018 | UN report says rising Arctic temperatures 'locked in' | Fiat Chrysler to recall 850K vehicles House technology committee leaders ask to postpone 5G spectrum auction MORE (R-Okla.). They set the tone for this civil, smart, and productive hearing. 

Our hearing wasn’t an outlier. Days before, Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenCBO: Pelosi bill to lower drug prices saves Medicare 5 billion Trump official declines to testify on trade protections for tech platforms House panel asks Trump trade official to testify on legal protections for tech platforms MORE (R-Ore.), Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonGOP group calls out five House Republicans to speak up on Ukraine House passes bill to revamp medical screenings for migrants at border Energy efficiency cannot be a partisan issue for Washington MORE (R-MIich, and Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusSyria says it won't resume talks with US-backed Kurdish forces amid Turkish onslaught GOP lawmaker after Syria decision: 'Pull my name off the "I support Donald Trump" list' Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 MORE (R-Ill.) published an op-ed declaring, “Climate change is real, and as Republican Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we are focused on solutions.”

Also, the previous week, a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing addressed how climate change hurts forests, public lands and national parks. According to E&E News, Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrat argues GOP had 'no deep love or loyalty' to Trump Democrats take Trump impeachment case to voters Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group MORE (D-Cali.) applauded Republicans for calling a scientist to testify who "firmly reflects the mainstream of the global scientific community." 

It is still an open question as to whether Congress will commit the necessary resources, and put in place policies, to create the low-carbon future that science shows we need to stabilize our climate. If we have turned a corner, we recognize that our journey is not complete. There are a few dogged members of Congress, reflecting a shrinking segment of the public, who claim they understand climate change better than the scientific community.

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But refreshingly, in our committee hearing, we heard a return to a functional and honest discussion of climate science. We talked about an aggressive shift to low-carbon energy. We talked about the potential of technology to reduce emissions and capture carbon from the atmosphere. We talked about how there is no magic bullet for climate and plenty of room for compromise over how to move forward.

These are the debates and conversations that we should have been holding all along. And, to repurpose a well-known expression, the best time to start having serious conversations about climate change was 30 years ago. The second best time is now.

Jennifer Francis, Ph.D., is a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center.

Joseph Majkut, Ph.D., is director of climate policy at the Niskanen Center.