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 Brooks58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill GOP candidate expects Roy Moore to announce Senate bid in June GOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama 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 JohnsonReturning to the moon to gain soft political power Some Dem chairmen have changed tune on Trump impeachment Hillicon 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 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 WaldenHillicon Valley: House lawmakers reach deal on robocall bill | Laid-off journalists launch ads targeting tech giants | Apple seeks tariff exemptions | Facebook's Libra invites scrutiny Bipartisan House lawmakers announce compromise anti-robocall bill Key senators release bipartisan package to lower health care costs MORE (R-Ore.), Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonHouse passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Overnight 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 MORE (R-MIich, and Rep. John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusOvernight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress California official blasts EPA head over car standard negotiations Democrats grill Trump officials over fuel standard rollback 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 HuffmanO'Rourke's defends his 'war tax' amid criticism Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? 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.