Inhofe Offers Parting Shot on Global Warming

The chair of the Senate's environment committee spent the past four years campaigning against environmentalists and the media. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) says they have played the "greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people" by supporting the idea that humans are responsible for global warming.

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One of Washington's most powerful climate skeptics is about to lose his microphone. For the last four years, Senator James Inhofe has been the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee. He's a conservative Republican from Oklahoma and has used his position to try to refute the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change. He's called that idea quote, “the greatest hoax perpetuated on the American people.” Now Democrats are poised to take over his committee, but Inhofe held one last hearing to make his case.

Here's NPR's Elizabeth Shogren.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Even though Senator Inhofe is about to give up his gavel, there was a standing room only crowd in the committee's ornate room. The press tables were full of reporters who were Inhofe's target at this hearing.

Senator JAMES INHOFE (Republican, Oklahoma): Much of the mainstream media has subverted its role as an objective source of information on climate change into a role of an advocate.

SHOGREN: Despite his mild tone, Inhofe's criticism was sharp and at times personal.

Sen. INHOFE: We've seen examples of this overwhelmingly one-sided reporting by 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley, ABC's Bill Blakemore, CNN's Miles O'Brien, which I believe is here with us today, or will be. At Time magazine, Associated Press, Reuters, just to name a few.

SHOGREN: The reporters weren't offered a chance to respond. Instead, the panel heard from five witnesses. The three invited by Inhofe echoed the senator's views. One was David Deming, a geologist from the University of Oklahoma.

Professor DAVID DEMING (Geology, University of Oklahoma): There is an overwhelming bias today in the media regarding the issue of global warming. In the past two years, this bias has bloomed into an irrational hysteria. Every natural disaster that occurs is now linked with global warming, no matter how tenuous or impossible the connection.

SHOGREN: Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey defended the press.

Senator FRANK LAUTENBERG (Democrat, New Jersey): I plead with those in the media, speak out for heaven's sake, say it like it is. That is the power of your profession.

SHOGREN: After apologizing to Inhofe, Lautenberg quoted the chairman's now famous line about global warming being a hoax. Then he turned to the witnesses, starting with Deming, and asked if they agreed.

Sen. LAUTENBERG: Can I ask each one of you your view of whether or not this is a bad joke perpetuated on the American people, a hoax?

Prof. DEMING: Global warming?

Sen. LAUTENBERG: Yeah.

Prof. DEMING: Well, I wouldn't use the same word that Senator Inhofe used. I wouldn't use hoax, because hoax implies it's deliberate. I think that what we're dealing with is a psychological phenomenon. It's a mass delusion.

SHOGREN: At that point, Senator Inhofe spoke up.

Sen. INHOFE: I kind of like mass delusion. That's a good one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHOGREN: That's the kind of statement that made Inhofe a hero with climate skeptics like R.M. Carter, a geophysicist from James Cook University in Australia.

Professor R.M. CARTER (Geophysicist, James Cook University): I would like people to understand that this committee worldwide has had an impact, and though Senator Inhofe in leading it has been instrumental in making sure that some of the other side of the story on climate change remains in the public domain.

SHOGREN: He and David Deming say instead of cutting greenhouse gases, people should emit as much as possible to avoid another ice age. But Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer says that view is out of the mainstream. She'll become the new chairman of the Senate Environment Committee next month.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): There is consensus, gentlemen and ladies, there is consensus. Now there are a few people on the edges, of course; that's fine. And by the way, they should be listened to. I agree with you, that's important that they'd be listened to, and that Dr. Carter and Dr. Deming be listened to. But we can't as policymakers, it seems to me, turn our backs on the overwhelming scientific evidence and opinion.

SHOGREN: After the hearing, one of the witnesses, Harvard geophysicist Daniel Schrag, says he'll be glad to see Inhofe give up his gavel.

Mr. DANIEL SCHRAG (Geophysicist, Harvard University): He dredges up people who have no real standing in the scientific community, and they come here and spout off on their views. I think it's good for climate policy all the over the world that this was Senator Inhofe's last hearing.

SHOGREN: But this won't be the last word from Inhofe on climate change. He's expected to stay on the committee, but he won't have the power to call hearings or block legislation.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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