Senate hearing links 2012 drought to climate change

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



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WASHINGTON, June 19, 2013 - As temperatures hovered near 100 degrees in the nation's capital yesterday, things were also heating in the Dirksen Senate Building, where lawmakers grilled two panels of experts on the role of climate change in recent erratic weather events.

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And at least two participants in the Senate Environment and Public Works hearing took care to link last year's hundred-year drought, which devastated a number of agricultural producers nationwide, to what some see as a catastrophic climate phenomenon. 

“What will more droughts mean to agriculture in this country?” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked during his opening statement. “What will climate change mean for national security?”

Sanders is one of the Senate's fiercest climate advocates, and released controversial legislation that would create a carbon tax at the beginning of this year.

Franklin W. Nutter, who testified on behalf of the Reinsurance Association of America, was more explicit in his testimony, in which he warned senators of anthropogenic climate change.

“Goldman Sachs Global Economics reports the 2012 U.S. drought alone cut crop yields, reducing 3rd quarter 2012 GDP by .4% - the equivalent of another Superstorm Sandy,” Nutter said. “Droughts are now the third most costly category of natural catastrophe loss with crop losses dominant.”

Nutter says his reinsurance industry is particularly appropriate harbinger for climate change. That's because the sector, which insures insurance companies themselves, “is at great financial peril if it does not understand global and regional climate impacts, variability and developing scientific assessment of a changing climate,” he said.

For that reason, Nutter said, all reinsurance companies are apprised of the latest, cutting edge science. “Blending the actuarial sciences with the natural sciences is critical in order to provide the public with resources to recover from natural events,” he said.

Republican lawmakers, however, were loath yesterday to accept a link between fitful weather patterns and human-caused climate change.

“More and more reports are showing that science is not settled,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

Republicans present at the hearing also requested the Senate engage in a more thorough conversation on the economic costs of sweeping climate change reform, as was proposed by President Obama earlier this month.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., asked politicians to consider the “impacts (of the reform) on the American people as they face very, very tough times.”

It appears that much of the farming community shares in this skepticism. A 2011 Iowa State University poll found that though 68 percent of Iowa farmers believe climate change is occurring, only 10 percent believe “it is caused mostly by human activities.”

Speaking on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Executive Director of Communications Mace Thornton recently told a journalist, “We're not convinced that the climate change we're seeing is anthropogenic in origin. We don't think the science is there to show that in a convincing way."

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