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 leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field Alabama Holocaust Commission condemns GOP lawmaker's use of Hitler phrase 'big lie' 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 JohnsonHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Prosecutors used FISA warrant to get info on Huawei | Study finds discrimination in Facebook ads | Bezos retains voting control over ex-wife's Amazon stocks Dem senators introduce bill to combat sexual harassment in STEM Pelosi, Dems unveil bill to bind Trump to Paris climate accord 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 WaldenConservative groups defend tech from GOP crackdown Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders unveils new Medicare for all bill with backing from other 2020 Dems | White House slams Sanders' rollout | Drugmakers, 'middlemen' point fingers on insulin pricing House votes to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules MORE (R-Ore.), Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOvernight Health Care: Lawmakers get deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill | House votes to condemn Trump's anti-ObamaCare push | Eight House Republicans join with Dems | Trump officials approve Medicaid expansion in Maine The 8 Republicans who voted against Trump's anti-ObamaCare push House condemns Trump's latest anti-ObamaCare push MORE (R-MIich, and Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusA conservative climate plan will build on personal responsibility while reducing emissions Congress just proved there is hope for honest discussion on climate Dems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants 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 HuffmanOvernight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Dems want documents on Bernhardt's lobbying work Overnight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown 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.