Thu. Dec 1st, 2022
Image of a large, domed building.
enlarge / The Montana State Capitol Building, site of a rather unusual hearing.

It’s no secret that some of our federal lawmakers don’t have a firm grip on scientific evidence; you just have to watch a House Science Committee session where a member suggested that the climate-driven rise of the oceans could 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 to what extent this is a product of simply having more of them). Each year, they oversee several attempts to introduce pseudoscience into the public schools of a number of states.

But recently it emerged that a Montana legislature was trying to get the state to officially waive the scientific community’s findings. And if the federal government decides to believe the scientists and do something about the emissions, it wants the treasury state to somehow stop those efforts.

Joe Read and the Climate

The legislator in question is Republican Joe Read, who represents an area north of Missoula, home to many outstanding scientists at the University of Montana. Read has eight bills pending in the current session of the legislature, two of which focus on climate change.

One 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 previous legal precedents indicating that the federal government has the legal ability to regulate pollutants. Instead, the bill’s preamble ostensibly asserts that Montana’s emissions are all due to commerce that occurs within the state, and thus “any federal program to regulate greenhouse gases in the form of law or regulation violates the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

As a result, the bill would prohibit state agencies, officials and employees from doing anything to partner with federal efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. If passed, the government of Montana “may not in any way implement or enforce any federal regulation, rule, or policy implementing a federal greenhouse gas regulatory program.”

But if you thought Read’s grip on constitutional law was shaky, take a look at his rationale for objecting to anything about climate change. That’s 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 virtually all scientists are wrong: [US] National Climate Assessment is making the same mistakes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the National Academy of Sciences is also fundamentally wrong about climate change.”

Non-standard errors

What are those errors? They are not based on reality. Rep. Read claims that “all the arguments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to prove claims of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide have failed,” although we measured that increase in a number of ways. There are also things that are difficult to understand, such as the statement that “the carbon-14 data shows that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s claim that human emissions have reduced the ‘buffering capacity of the carbonate system’ is an invalid claim.”

But it mainly comes back to Read’s claim that “a simple physics model shows that human carbon dioxide emissions contribute less than 5 percent to the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that nature contributes more than 95 percent ​to the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” What is that simple physics model? It is not described in the bill.

Happy, the Billings Gazette was there when Read testified on his accounts. While state officials in attendance objected, Read received support from none other than the creator of the simple physics model, one Ed Berry (slogan 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, with a publication record in atmospheric science dating back to the 1950s. But in the early 1980s, he stopped publishing in the field. And, as the legislative hearing made clear, its simple physics model has not been subject to peer review. Based on its website, that model seems to suggest that changes in global temperatures are caused by the solar system’s journey through the spiral arms of the Milky Way.

Needless to say, there’s no support for that idea in the scientific literature, meaning peers probably won’t be nice to something Berry is likely to submit for review. How Read found Berry—and why he thought Berry’s ideas were worth basing state policy on—remains a mystery.

By akfire1

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