But not always. Sometimes there’s a question that’s so odd it slowly makes its way from the hearing to the national consciousness. As did a question posed by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) to Jennifer Eberlien, an associate deputy chief at the U.S. Forest Service.
It started innocently.
“I understand from what’s been testified to the Forest Service and the BLM” — referring to the Bureau of Land Management — “you want very much to work on the issue of climate change,” Gohmert said.
“I was informed by the immediate past director of NASA that they have found that the moon’s orbit is changing slightly and so is the Earth’s orbit around the sun,” he continued. “And we know there’s been significant solar flare activity. And so is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon’s orbit or the Earth’s orbit around the sun? Obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate.”
It took Eberlien a moment to reply.
“I would have to follow up with you on that one, Mr. Gohmert,” she said with a chuckle.
“Yeah, well, if you figure out a way that you in the Forest Service can make that change,” Gohmert replied, “I’d like to know.”
When it’s written out, as above, this appears to be a member of Congress earnestly asking a person in charge of the nation’s forests whether her agency could alter how the Earth rotates around the sun. It’s an obviously ludicrous idea for several reasons. One: It’s not clear how any agency might change the Earth’s orbit, much less one whose heaviest equipment includes big chain saws. Two: There’s an obvious risk posed by shifting how the Earth rotates around the sun. I, for one, would prefer not to cause that orbit to decay to the extent that our planet is pulled directly into the star. No wonder Eberlien could only marvel.
It’s also absolutely fair to assume that Gohmert might actually have thought this is something that could happen. Gohmert has earned a reputation for his championing of bizarre theories, from casting the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 as “people without any firearms coming into a building,” to presenting as serious a complicated web of conspiratorial interactions, to publicly promoting the false and unfounded claim that the U.S. military seized a server with presidential votes in Europe after the 2020 election.
There is good reason, then, to think that perhaps Gohmert actually wanted to know whether the Forest Service had a tool in its arsenal to move the moon around. In reality, though, Gohmert was embracing a different goofy theory.
Gohmert was being ironic. He wasn’t actually suggesting that the Earth’s orbit be shifted but, instead, suggesting that, since climate change is a function of those orbits and solar flares, altering the orbit would be what those agencies need to do to combat climate change.
He wasn’t asking a dumb question. He was trying to suggest that it was the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service that was being dumb by thinking they could affect climate change in some way short of figuring out how to shift the moon around in the sky. And that’s how Gohmert was wrong.
I don’t know what Gohmert was told or thinks he was told by a former NASA administrator (presumably Jim Bridenstine) about Earth’s orbit and climate change. But I do know what NASA says about it publicly.
“In the last few months, a number of questions have come in asking if NASA has attributed Earth’s recent warming to changes in how Earth moves through space around the Sun: a series of orbital motions known as Milankovitch cycles,” NASA’s website reads. Those cycles “cannot account for the current period of rapid warming Earth has experienced since the pre-Industrial period (the period between 1850 and 1900), and particularly since the mid-20th Century,” the NASA blog goes on to say. “Scientists are confident Earth’s recent warming is primarily due to human activities — specifically, the direct input of carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.”
In fact, it concludes, “if there were no human influences on climate, scientists say Earth’s current orbital positions within the Milankovitch cycles predict our planet should be cooling, not warming, continuing a long-term cooling trend that began 6,000 years ago.”
Oh, in another article, NASA debunks the idea that solar flares are a cause of global warming.
This probably doesn’t surprise you because you are probably not a politician who represents a state whose economy is heavily dependent on the fossil fuels that contribute most heavily to that carbon dioxide output. That is, you are probably not actively seeking out other explanations for climate change that do not hinge on concern about how much oil and gas we’re burning. You are probably not more likely to embrace the idea that it’s about a wobbly moon, just as you didn’t try to rationalize your views of the 2020 presidential results by taking as true a tweet about a military operation in Germany.
When Gohmert’s question finally trickled out onto social media, the response was what you would expect: He thinks that the Forest Service can move the Earth?! Again, that’s not really what Gohmert was doing. But, amazingly, Gohmert himself appears not to understand that this is the reason people think his comments were so bizarre. Instead he seems to believe that people think he was saying that BLM — that is, the Black Lives Matter movement — should change our planet’s trajectory.
The question itself, Gohmert saw no problem with.