Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Comments provided to the US House Natural Resource Committee's livestream, May 5, 2020

Full livestream available here. Dr. Cobb's oral comments run from 44:45 to 49:44.
Link to @NRDems website for the event here.

Prepared comments:
Thank you, Chairman Grijalva, for inviting me to participate in this important conversation. As a climate scientist, I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the critical role that science plays in keeping Americans safe.

Even as we speak, millions of healthcare and other essential workers are putting their lives on the line in an effort to keep us safe, and I want to recognize their sacrifice and express my gratitude not only to them, but to the families that support them in their work.

The essential role of scientists, including epidemiologists, virologists, and public health experts, is on full display as they provide decision-makers with the best available data and model output. 

Even so, COVID19 safeguards came too little too late for many in my home state and across the country. Dire warnings from experts across the country and around the world went unheeded for weeks on end. It is now clear that the most vulnerable Americans are paying the steepest price, esp low-income communities of color. This trend is especially stark in Georgia, where a recent CDC study revealed that 80% of COVID19 patients in several hard-hit hospitals were African-American. According to statistics compiled by Georgia’s Dept of Public health, African Americans comprise 50% of COVID19 deaths, but only 32% of the population (GA DPH,  

These same communities are also uniquely vulnerable to another escalating global threat - man-made climate change. There is no doubt that the most vulnerable among us will bear the brunt of the losses from climate change, sometimes with their very lives. 

America faces a stark, urgent choice. Science tells us that we must work aggressively to reduce our emissions in the next 10-20 years, or face a future of accelerating climate impacts that will threaten our food supplies, our water supplies, our infrastructure, our economy, our national security, and the very lives of vulnerable frontline communities. Climate losses are already piling up. Every year, extreme rainfall, coastal flooding, staggering heat waves, and wildfires play out like scenes out of a sci-fi film. Except these impacts are all too real, and they were avoidable, if we had acted upon scientific guidance decades ago. 

As party to the Paris Agreement, the United States has committed to act on climate science findings. As a country, we are well on our way, thanks to the evidence-based policymaking by governors and mayors across the country, and to a public that is hungry for climate solutions. 

However, the Trump administration has turned a blind eye to decades of robust climate science findings since its first days in office in its relentless pursuit of fossil fuel interests, even as the warnings from our climate science community have become more dire, and our time to avoid the worst-case climate outcomes ticks down. 

Here are some lowlights from the administration’s fossil-fuel agenda:

·       relaxed restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas

·        just weeks ago, it rolled back fuel efficiency standards that would have saved Americans money at the pump while reducing deadly air pollution (see NYTimes article here), and revoked CA’s right to set their own fuel efficiency standards

·     bypassed long-standing review processes designed to set air pollution standards at safe levels, disregarding expert recommendations to tighten those standards  

As you’ve heard, this agenda has continued during this pandemic. 

Make no mistake:  the sustained pursuit of this agenda requires undercutting the mechanisms designed to ensure that policy is shaped by the best available science. In a recent study by Union of Concerned Scientists Dr. Gretchen Goldman, federal scientists report a loss of scientific integrity that is particularly pronounced at the EPA and DOI.

Keeping Americans safe means letting science be the guide for policy, and right now, that includes a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, and the infrastructure and outdated policies that perpetuate our dangerous dependence on them.

Several months ago, we could never have imagined how our lives would change in the last weeks, seemingly overnight. Let’s hope that Americans are newly equipped to see our climate futures with new eyes. 

In one future, we watch helplessly as climate change ravages our infrastructure, our food, our water, our nation’s biodiversity and thriving coasts, and tears at the very fabric of our society. We wonder what might have been.

In another future, we enjoy cleaner air and healthier lungs, cleaner water, well-paying clean energy jobs and a thriving economy fueled by developing the best solutions to the global climate crisis. We can start walking that path, today, by making data-driven investments in our low-carbon energy future.

For a safe, thriving America, science must be our compass. This is true in the best of times, but as recent events have shown, it is especially true in the worst of times.