Rep. Mo Brooks Does Science: Maybe Sea Levels Rise When Someone Drops Mountains In The Ocean


Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?

Mo Brooks, Republican US representative from the Great State of Alabama, is a true gentleman science idiot in the classic form. Not only is he breathtakingly ignorant, but he also insists on parading that ignorance in public, because he wants policy to be as stupid as he is. For instance, during last year's attempt to repeal Obamacare, he argued that health insurers should be able to charge more for pre-existing conditions, since "people who lead good lives" don't ever get sick or injured. He's a totally fact-based guy that way.

So it should be no surprise that Wednesday, during a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which is simply lousy with climate change deniers, Brooks would ask a climate expert whether maybe the annual rise in sea level might be due to rocks falling in it.

E&E News (republished at Science magazine, which is not paywalled) notes that the hearing was supposed to be about how technology can be enlisted to help humanity adapt to a changing climate, but the committee's questions, especially from Brooks and his Republican pals, kept focusing instead on the basic facts of climate change, because why even think about adapting to a phenomenon that many oil companies and important donors say there's no evidence for? So instead of testifying about how humanity can deal with changes that virtually all legitimate scientists are already observing, Philip Duffy, president of Woods Hole Research Center (and a former senior adviser to the US Global Change Research Program, as if we even need such a thing), spent two hours rebutting dumb denier claims from Twitter instead.

Brooks was especially skeptical of the notion that the ice caps are causing observed sea level increases of about 3.3 millimeters a year worldwide. Mind you, that's an average for the entire world. In other questioning, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas tried to use results from a single coastal station, in San Francisco, to prove there was no correlation between fossil fuel burning and sea level rise. Duffy pointed out that San Francisco is not the whole world, which is good science, but undoubtedly upset some hipsters in the Mission District.

Mo Brooks wasn't having it. He wanted to know what other factors might account for increasing sea levels, HUH?

Duffy pointed to ground subsidence, which is the sinking of the ground in places that can exacerbate the problem of rising sea levels. Cities like New Orleans are sinking quickly, even faster in many places than the seas are rising.

Brooks asked if any other factors were contributing to sea level rise.

“Those are all that I know of,” Duffy replied.

Brooks was ready to catch the ignorant scientist with a huge GOTCHA, because he knows all about Archimedes, who may have been a godless pagan, but knew that when you put stuff in your bathtub, the water level rises. Wouldn't that explain sea level increases in Eureka?

“What about erosion!” Brooks exclaimed. “Every single year that we’re on Earth, you have huge tons of silt deposited by the Mississippi River, by the Amazon River, by the Nile, by every major river system — and for that matter, creek, all the way down to the smallest systems. And every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise. Because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up."

“I’m pretty sure that’s …” Duffy tried to interject.

“What about the white cliffs of Dover?” Brooks continued. “California, where you have the waves crashing against the shorelines and time and time again you have the cliffs crash into the sea. All of that displaces the water which forces it to rise, does it not?”

“I’m pretty sure that on human time scales,” Duffy replied, “those are minuscule effects.”

The Washington Post decided to science that out, since at first the amount of annual sea level rise seems small -- only about a tenth of an inch a year -- and hey, displacement really is a thing, a science fact that's been wiped up by everyone who puts cream into an already-full coffee cup. But no, erosion doesn't account for that, not even chunks of the white cliffs of Dover or random millionaires' mansions (and the hillsides they're built on) falling into the sea, because the oceans are really damn big. You'd have to displace roughly 1.19 trillion cubic meters of water. That would mean dropping a rock into the ocean that's 8 miles in diameter -- or if you prefer another visualization, the equivalent of scraping five inches of all the surface area of the USA. Every year. Someone would probably notice if worldwide erosion equaled an eight-mile thick mountain every year -- and as Duffy noted, the rate of sea level rise isn't constant, but increasing.

Nope, erosion is a real thing, but it's not making the sea level rise.

Brooks also tried to insist -- another favorite denier claim -- that Antarctic sea ice is actually increasing, so there's no global warming, but Duffy scienced that claim away, too, noting that the Arctic and Antarctic are affected by different factors, and satellite observations have shown an increasing loss of ice. (Greenland is losing its glaciers, too.)

Brooks, of course, insisted Duffy was wrong. Because he has a NASA base in his district, so he knows stuff. What kind of crazy sources was Duffy using?

Duffy had to admit he was citing "the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration," so there you go: Deep State conspiracy. Then another congressman, Florida's Bill Posey, said that scientists said in the 1970s that the world was actually cooling, so phooey on science, and Duffy presumably went home and drank heavily.

Hey, if Democrats retake Congress this fall, the House Science Committee may start talking about science again!

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[Science / Wapo]

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