State of the Union Address Sets Stage for Senate Climate Hearing Today

If, last night, you made it through the usual State of the Union appeals to bipartisanship, tax reform, health care, job creation, deficit control, and industrial revitalization–then you heard President Obama’s unusually blunt promise to take action on climate change.
And all you had to do was wait through the rest of the night before Congress started working on its response. The Senate Committee on Environment and Infrastructure, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, has already lined up a session on the “Latest Climate Science” for this morning, at 10 a.m. EST. The blue-ribbon panel of invited experts providing testimony includes AMS President J. Marshall Shepherd and you can follow the live webcast of the hearing at the committee’s website.
The hearing originally looked like a relatively routine overview of science following the release of the newly drafted National Climate Assessment, but now it is charged by the President’s new resolve to begin dealing with climate change, with or without Congressional input. His position was staked out in a few sentences hunkered down amidst a flurry of points about energy efficiency and independence:

[O]ver the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.
But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.
Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late.
Now, the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.
If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct..I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

The threat of unilateral Executive action set off a storm of commentary (e.g., Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2) and is sure to put the Senate in a very different frame of mind for today’s hearing. As for the science of climate change and its impacts–the focus of the hearing–this morning’s line-up of guests undoubtedly will have plenty to say about the latest findings. For example, Prof. Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois, and Dr. John Balbus, of the National Institutes of Health, are among the lead authors of the 2013 National Climate Assessment (available for comment). Meanwhile, Dr. Shepherd has been speaking out frequently on both the impacts of climate change on society and on the scientific approach to evaluating the effects of climate change on extreme events, and of course he is part of the AMS Executive Council that updated the Society’s information statement on climate change in 2012.