Congressman Lamar Smith on the- wait for it- "often ignored and under-researched" benefits of climate change: The Climate Minute Podcast

Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Exxon/Mobil receive the brunt of our climate ire this week,  while Al Gore’s indefatigable optimism and his new movie An Inconvenient Sequel bring us hope.

Lamar Smith – the anti-science Science Chairman—did a piece for the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal extolling the “under-researched” virtues of climate change. We’d like to point out that beyond writing “Studies indicate” several times, he does not actually cite a specific study that supports his viewpoint. So, we helped him out a little bit. Free-Air Carbon Enrichment experiments started at Duke in 1994 to research the effect of carbon dioxide (CO2) on plants. Indeed, it may increase growth for certain plants—we hope you like soybeans but not wheat or rice—but overall, the research states that rising CO2 will have complex interactions on plant physiology.

Contrary to Lamar Smith’s account, plants are likely to be less nutritious at higher levels of CO2—they have less nitrogen, which means less protein—and therefore insects need to eat more of the plant; also runoff will increase under higher conditions of CO2, which—while contrary to Smith’s report—is a moot point because studying plant-influenced runoff alone cannot predict the effect of climate change on our hydrologic cycle. Perhaps our Science Chairman should be sure to read his scientific articles a little more closely; though maybe he read a different study. We will never know since he didn’t cite any scientific information. This lack of accurate analysis and limited basis in fact indicates to us that there must be a secondary agenda going on for Lamar Smith. Might we suggest that he is representing the polluters in his decision making over the people?

Notable, Lamar Smith’s home state of Texas is also the home of Exxon/Mobil, which is itself in some metaphorically rising water. Exxon/Mobil recently received a $2 million fine for doing business with Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, despite U.S. sanctions against it. Current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was CEO of Exxon at the time of the eight(!) business deals signed with Igor Sechin, the head of state-run Rosneft. Most shocking to us is that Exxon is refusing to pay the $2 million fine, which is a pittance of the $78.4 billion profit from last year alone. Rumors abound of a “Rexit,” or Rex Tillerson’s potential departure from his current role advising on foreign affairs for the Trump Administration. We wonder if Tillerson is suffering from a combination of boredom and embarrassment from recent Treasury Department actions. Or perhaps Tillerson is horrified by the public scorn Trump is exhibiting toward Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leaving us all to wonder who is next on the chopping block. 

On a lighter note, former Vice President Al Gore released his new movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power in New York and Los Angeles on July the 28th and will release it nationwide on August the 4th. His optimism is appreciated, especially in light of the controversies David Wallace-Wells New York Magazine piece (discussed in our July 14, 2017 podcast episode). The Wallace-Wells article demonstrated pessimism about the ability of the United States to fight the climate crisis. The reviews of An Inconvenient Sequel point out how close we are to solutions, how much the price of renewable energy is dropping and how this is becoming a bi-partisan interest in terms of reducing emissions. Gore said in an interview that solar has created two times the increase in jobs that coal has and solar is growing seventeen times faster than any other industry. Gore sends a message of hope in his interviews and says that despite Trump, state and local governments are pursuing clean energy aggressively and are committing to honor the Paris Agreement. All of these states are coming together in the U.S. Climate Alliance. They just launched a new website that shows all of the states participating alongside fantastic narratives about the initiatives.

There is a little bit of controversy around Gore’s new movie. There was a perhaps unintentional sabotage on the part of Paramount pictures, which originally considered releasing the movie nation-wide similar to how Lionsgate Films released Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004. Instead, Paramount decided to go off a platform release on July 28th and then go national on August 4th, which diminishes the power that the film would have had if they had gone with the original nation-wide release. Also—though we disagree with this question—Emily Atkin wondered in New Republic if Al Gore is too polarizing to be effective as a climate advocate. We don’t think so. But we do think he dropped the ball on one thing. Several years ago—full disclosure D.R. was involved with this alongside Betsy Rosenberg—there was an effort to have Gore’s current TV air a nightly program dealing exclusively with the climate crisis. The feeling was that since current TV did not accept fossil fuel advertising there would be no editorial limitations on such a program. It was turned down and told that the only person that was qualified to host the program was Gore himself and he was too busy to do so. That is a big dropping of the ball. Gore owned the network. He also shouldn’t have sold it, that was another mistake. But other than that, Gore retains his usefulness for the climate movement. With his organization Climate Reality Project, he is training a lot of spokespeople to be megaphones for climate science and action.


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