Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens Addresses U.S. Climate Change Science Program Workshop

November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC -- Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today addressed the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Workshop. Chairman Stevens’ remarks focused on the need to rely on sound science when making policy decisions.

The Climate Change Science Program Workshop is being held over three days and is sponsored by 13 government agencies. More information about the conference can be found at:

Following is the text of Chairman Stevens’ speech:

I am, as a Senator from Alaska and in my current role, very interested in all that you do. I’m sure you’ve heard before, but I took a trip up the West Coast of Alaska this summer and I can tell you that there is no doubt that there is change in the Arctic. The permanent ice is back further from the shore. The trees are growing further north. The permafrost is thinner. The annual ice is back further from the shore so that in the summertime we’re losing more and more ocean mammals because they used to put their offspring on that annual ice – it was close to shore and they could be watched by the adults. We see change in our state every year.

I do thank you for the invitation to be with you. You’re discussing a popular topic in Congress. I think we’ll continue to focus on the subject for a substantial period of time. As far as the United States is concerned, as I have indicated, I think that global climate change is more apparent in Alaska than anywhere else. Our state has a vital interest in making sure all policy decisions are based on sound science.

I have been closely monitoring the research in your field. I hope you’re familiar with my good friend, Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu, who is the director of the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks, at our University in Fairbanks. He is one of the world’s leading experts on Arctic science and climate change, so far as we are concerned. I trust Dr. Akasofu’s research and his opinions, and have tried to assist him as much as possible in funding the research of his institution. His work has shown that while there is little doubt the earth’s temperature is changing, there is still much debate about what is causing this change.

In August, the Anchorage Daily News printed an article written by Dr. Akosofu. In that article, he said, “one thing we do know is that there is no definitive scientific proof that all of the present global warming is attributable to humans, or caused by the greenhouse effect.”

I went to the floor of the Senate in September and asked that Dr. Akasofu’s article be included in the Congressional Record because I am concerned about the direction of the policy debate on this subject. Some in Washington are jumping to conclusions before our science and research efforts have given us all of the facts. And, during my time as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I saw to it that there were billions of dollars made available for this research. As Chairman of the Commerce Committee, I intend to continue that direction.

Changes in climate and weather patterns do not appear to be isolated events to me, but they are part of long-range, historic trends that we all must study. One cannot arrive at sound conclusions about causes just by observing the changes which occur in our own lifetime. Reliable conclusions can only be reached by sound science provided by the type of research that many of you here are engaged in, and we need your continued efforts.

Some of the changes now being reported are the most recent stage in a historic evolution, Dr. Akasofu tells me. In Alaska, our glaciers have been receding since 1800, long before the advent of so-called greenhouse gases.

And I’m also told, in the past 100 years, the sun has given off additional energy, which is likely responsible for one third of the .6 degree Celsius increase in global temperature.

I’m also told the so-called Atlantic and Pacific oscillation may have dumped more heat into the Arctic Ocean than we realized had occurred.

Dr. Akasofu sent me his most recent assessment earlier this month. I hope you all know that we helped finance three, maybe four icebreaker research vessels now for the third year in the Arctic Ocean to try and really keep track of what is happening there. He noted the amount of CO2 and CH4 now in the air is well above what the earth has experienced during the last 450,000 years and climate change is in progress in full steam in the Arctic. But he emphasized that there is “no definitive proof” that receding glaciers and shrinking sea ice “are caused entirely and specifically by the greenhouse effect.”

I have urged my colleagues in the Senate not to substitute casual judgments for sound science. That would only lead to confusion, which Dr. Akasofu has warned me may be more dangerous than global warming itself.

Those of us in Congress need sound science which we can use to formulate policies and make decisions. The basic problem we face is distinguishing between natural causes and human impact, and trying to do something about the latter. We need your help in making that distinction and pursuing the solutions that we need.

I was pleased to learn the U.S. Climate Change Science Program is trying to improve the climate models currently in use. This is an important initiative and I’m sure it will have our total support in Congress. It will give those of us who are working on policy solutions more reliable and useful climate change projections.

Congress also needs more information about the likelihood of changes in extreme events, such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts. We need to know the likelihood that critical thresholds – like the level of warming sufficient to melt the Greenland ice sheet – will be exceeded.

I am now co-chair of the Senate Commerce Committee with my good friend, Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii. Climate change falls under our committee’s jurisdiction, and the two of us are committed, dedicated to working with you on this issue. We have created two subcommittees which deal with this subject in one way or another: the Subcommittee on Global Climate Change, chaired by Senator Vitter and co-chaired by Senator Lautenberg, and the Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction, chaired by Senator DeMint and co-chaired by Senator Ben Nelson.

I want to emphasize that between Senator Inouye and I, we run a bipartisan Committee. We do not want political arguments. We want sound bipartisan solutions.

The Subcommittee on Global Climate Change held a hearing on climate change policy in July. During that hearing, Dr. James Mahoney, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Deputy NOAA Administrator, told us, “sometimes there are… political arguments that want to go in one extreme or the other. The scientific argument is much more complicated in the middle.”

I think it is very dangerous to make – as Dr. Mahoney called them – the “political arguments.” Figuring out what is really happening in the Arctic will be very important to answering the overall question of global climate change, and as I said, I and I think our whole Committee, are dedicated to pursuing research to try and define these issues.

I don’t know if you are aware, but in 2003 the first typhoon ever reported in the Arctic almost touched Point Barrow, Alaska. That typhoon was one of the reasons that we decided to create two Commerce Subcommittees to deal with the overall subject of climate change. The people in our state need to know if there is a connection between increased hurricane activity and climate change. I think people throughout our country also do after the recent hurricanes this year. Our scientists in Alaska believe that connection has not been made yet. It is important for those of us in Congress to continue asking these kinds of questions and to listen to the answers the scientific community is capable of giving us. We must not substitute political, premature judgments for “scientific arguments.”

Our nation should prepare for the effects of climate change, but we need sound science before we enact policies aimed at its causes or trying to find solutions. I do commend you and NOAA for organizing this workshop and urge you to share the conclusions you reach this week with those in Congress who are working on these subjects as soon as possible.

It was a pleasure to be with you. Thank you very much.