Rick Casey reflects on Lamar Smith’s latest climate change comments

Last Updated by Patrick Driscoll on

As the people in and near Houston recover from the horrors of massive flooding and go about the disgusting, back-breaking work of reclaiming their stinking, muck-filled homes, they should take heart from the wisdom of San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith.

Simply put, they should look at the bright side.

Congressman Smith has long been a skeptic, some say a denier, of climate change. From his perch as the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, he has long expressed doubts about climate change and the human role in accelerating it. He has even accused government scientists of colluding to cook the data showing the earth’s atmosphere and oceans to be heating up.

But after taking a little-noticed trip to the Arctic with committee members earlier this year, Smith seems to have modified his tune. He appears to agree that the earth is, indeed, warming.

That will be of considerable interest to Houstonians. After all, in just the past three years they have been hit by two 500-year floods and a thousand-year flood. Scientists say global warming doesn’t cause those weather events, but does make them fiercer.

It’s not a controversial theory. Warmer oceans and the Gulf of Mexico add power to storms, and warmer air holds increasing amounts of moisture for storms to dump. As this chart shows, the number of severe storms has been increasing steadily decade by decade since 1950. Scientists say it is because of ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping emissions humans cast into the air.

So it is notable that in a recent issue of The Daily Signal, published by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Congressman Smith agreed that “it is indisputable that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is gradually increasing ....”

So what should we do about it? Well, that’s where Lamar Smith still disagrees with the scientists. His prescription: Why not look at the sunny side of climate change?

“The benefits of a changing climate are often ignored and under-researched,” Smith wrote. “Our climate is too complex and the consequences of misguided policies too harsh to discount the positive effects of carbon enrichment.”

So what are the positive effects of what he charmingly calls carbon enrichment? A major one is a very substantial increase of the number of plants on the earth — covering areas totaling twice the size of the United States according to at least one important study. These plants grow by grabbing the huge amounts of carbon out of the air and, with the help of water and the sun, turning it into plant food. This has the side benefit of slowing the growth of carbon in the air, and thereby global warming.

Actually, Smith is on to something. But even scientists who conducted the study said the growth in greenery wasn’t enough to make up for the negative aspects of climate change, including rising sea levels and more severe storms. What’s more, they said, it would only slow the growth of heat trapping gases, not stop it.

“Hopefully, the world will follow the Paris agreement objectives and limit warming below 2 degrees centigrade,” one of the authors told BBC News.

Smith also argued that warmer temperatures in the farm belt would produce more and heartier foods, and a long-sought Northwest Passage through the Arctic will cut shipping costs.

Those are things you can think about, Houston, as you cart your earthly possessions to the curb. There’s a sunny side to your floods.

For example, Congressman Smith points out that fossil fuels have lifted many, many people out of poverty. And a lot of the greatest beneficiaries are in Houston, with its petroleum-based economy.

Houstonians have long described the noxious fumes that float from the massive petrochemical complex along the Ship Channel as “the smell of money.” Of course, the people who live close to those plants aren’t the ones who have been lifted out of poverty. Still, Congressman Smith would appreciate that spirit.

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