Mr. Inhofe's Last Hearing

Sunday, December 10, 2006

THE LAST hearing on global climate change chaired by Sen. James M. Inhofe provided an excellent and public tutorial on why Americans should be grateful that it was, in fact, his last. The departing chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has occupied a unique perch from which to take action on climate change. Instead, he has used his time at the committee's helm to cast spurious doubts on the problem even as the scientific consensus about its reality and severity has gelled. Last week, the Oklahoma Republican held a hearing to denounce the real villain in the debate: the media.

The press, it was claimed, has hyped climate change hysterically. It has ignored dissenting scientific voices. And it has sought to advocate for climate-change policy, instead of just reporting on the science. And this is the grave national problem -- not rising sea levels, melting ice caps, loss of habitats or shifts in oceanic currents -- that warrants the attention of the senator's committee.

Mr. Inhofe's complaints are meritless. If anything, media coverage of global warming has tended toward excessive caution. Scientific alarm at the concentration of greenhouse gases predates the current media attention to the subject. Many media organizations, in a quest for balance, have given climate-change skeptics far more ink and air time than justified by the support their position carries among reputable climatologists. But even debating the merits of Mr. Inhofe's charge acquiesces to changing the subject -- which all along should have been how to craft reasonable policy to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Democratic leadership on this issue should bring a welcome change. While some Republicans support strong action on climate change, they have been stymied by the White House and by congressional leadership that has insisted on debating basic science that is no longer the subject of serious dispute. It's a little like debating the future of the space program by holding hearings on whether the earth is actually round. It's long past time to move on to something useful.

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