It’s no secret that some of our federal legislators don’t have a firm grip on scientific evidence; it only takes watching a session of the House Science Committee, where one member suggested the climate-driven rise of the oceans might instead be caused by rocks falling into the ocean.
What’s often overlooked is that state legislators are even worse (though it’s not clear how much this is a product of there simply being more of them).
But it recently came out that a legislator in Montana was attempting to have the state officially renounce the findings of the scientific community. And, if the federal government decides to believe the scientists and do something about emissions, he wants the Treasure State to somehow sit those efforts out.
Joe Read and the climate
The legislator in question is Republican Joe Read, who represents an area north of Missoula, home of many fine scientists at the University of Montana. Read has eight bills under consideration in the current session of the legislature, and two of those focus on climate change.
One of them focuses on his state’s role in any greenhouse gas regulatory program that would be instituted under a future president. Read is apparently unaware of past legal precedent indicating that the federal government has the legal ability to regulate pollutants. Instead, the preamble of the bill seemingly argues that Montana’s emissions are all due to commerce that takes place within the state, and thus “any federal greenhouse gas regulatory program in the form of law or rule violates the 10th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”
As a result, the bill would prohibit state agencies, officials, and employees from doing anything to cooperate with federal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. If passed, the Montana government “may not implement or enforce in any way any federal regulation, rule, or policy implementing a federal greenhouse gas regulatory program.”
But if you thought Read’s grasp of constitutional law was shaky, you should check out his reason for objecting to doing anything about climate change. That’s laid out in his second bill, which targets both science education and in-state programs designed to reduce carbon emissions. And it doesn’t mince words, suggesting that pretty much all the scientists have it wrong: “the [US] National Climate Assessment makes the same errors as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the National Academy of Sciences is also fundamentally wrong about climate change.”
What are those errors? They are not reality based. Rep. Read claims “all Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change arguments to prove claims of increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide have failed,” even though we’ve measured that increase in a number of ways. There are also things that are difficult to comprehend, like the statement that “the carbon-14 data shows that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claim that human emissions have decreased the ‘buffer capacity of the carbonate system’ is an invalid claim.”
But it mostly comes back to Read’s claim that “a simple physics model proves human carbon dioxide emissions contribute less than 5 percent to the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide and nature contributes more than 95 percent to the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide.” What is that simple physics model? It’s not described in the bill.
Fortunately, the was there when Read took testimony on his bills. While the state officials present objected, Read received support from none other than the creator of the simple physics model, one Ed Berry (tagline on his website: “In a world of wooden arguments, I bring you logic of steel.”).
Berry is remarkably qualified when it comes to climate change, having a publication record in atmospheric science that dates back to the 1950s. But he stopped publishing in the field in the early 1980s. And, as the legislative hearing made clear, his simple physics model has not been subjected to any peer review. Based on his website, that model seems to suggest that changes in global temperatures are set by the travel of the Solar System through the Milky Way’s spiral arms.
Needless to say, there’s no support for that idea in the scientific literature, meaning peers are not likely be kind to anything Berry is likely to submit for review. How Read found Berry—and why he felt that Berry’s ideas were worth basing state policy on—remains a mystery.