The Spectacle Blog

Rohrabacher’s Climate Question

By on 6.15.11 | 4:22PM

Did California congressman Dana Rohrabacher come out in support of leveling rainforests to stop global warming, as the New York Times and Politico suggested? Of course not.

Rohrabacher is far from a global warming alarmist, and certainly does not make a habit of proposing ways in which the government might act to reduce CO2 emissions. So it raised some eyebrows when this representative­ asked an Obama administration official if he was considering policies that used deforestation to eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere.

At a May 25th congressional hearing on UN climate change policy, hosted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (of which Rohrabacher is the chair), he was questioning Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change of the US Department of State, and, according to Politico, made this inquiry:

Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?...Or would people be supportive of cutting down older trees in order to plant younger trees as a means to prevent this disaster from happening?

What Rohrabacher was likely talking about here was removing old, decaying material from rainforests, (because it releases CO2 and other gases as it rots) and replacing it with new, live material (that would absorb CO2). This is not, however, how environmentalists painted his statements. Instead, they were eager to portray him as a right-wing nut job ready to take a chainsaw to the Amazon in the name of environmentalism.

Advocating such an absurd policy, however, is not at all what Rohrabacher was attempting to do. In a press release, he stated that he was "simply questioning the policy" and that to present his question as an endorsement of any kind would be a "total misrepresentation."

Still, Rohrabacher's question was unclear and confusing, and could have been presented far more effectively. Dr. Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute, who also testified at the hearing, offers a possible explanation for this: lack of preparedness.

"He wasn't completely prepared; it came off badly," Hayward stated. "Too many people in both parties think they can go to these hearings and just wing it."

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