The House Science Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss technology’s role in addressing climate change, and the Alabama Republican took the opportunity to share an idea about sea-level rise with Philip Duffy, president of Woods Hole Research Center, who was one of the witnesses participating in the hearing. USA Today noted Brooks’ creative new idea:
“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,” Brooks said. “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.”
Brooks pointed to the White Cliffs of Dover and to California “where you have the waves crashing against the shorelines” and “you have the cliffs crash into the sea.”
“All of that displaces the water which forces it to rise, does it not?” Brooks asked.
“I’m pretty sure that on human time scales, those are minuscule effects,” Duffy answered.
I imagine climate deniers may appreciate Brooks’ child-like logic: if a swimming pool, for example, were half filled with water, the water level would rise with the addition of many rocks. Maybe the congressman has even heard something about Archimedes.
The trouble, which the poor congressman doesn’t seem to appreciate, is the size of the planet’s swimming pool: a Washington Post analysis found that to explain the current rises, we’d have to take “the top five inches of every one of the United States’ 9.1 million square miles of land area and use it to coat the bottom of the world’s oceans” – and we’d have to do that every year.
But as embarrassing as Mo Brooks’ confusion is, there may be a way to put an encouraging spin on this.
Sure, it’s frustrating that an elected member of the House Science Committee presented a ridiculous argument during a hearing on a global crisis. And yes, ideally Brooks would have some rudimentary understanding of why his comments were so foolish.
But in recent years, far-right Republicans have gone out of their way to argue that the seas aren’t rising. A few years ago, for example, Republican state lawmakers in Virginia commissioned a study on climate change and the state’s Eastern shore, but they required that references to “sea-level rise” be omitted. (The GOP sponsor of the study pointed to “sea-level rise” as an example of “liberal code words.”) The same year, Republicans in North Carolina tried to prohibit a state-appointed science panel from relying on the scientific evidence related to sea levels.
With this in mind, I’m half-tempted to see Brooks’ nonsense as a tiny step in the right direction – because the Alabama congressman was at least willing to acknowledge the existence of the underlying issue.
If given a choice, I’d much prefer a discussion about why the oceans are rising to a discussion about whether the oceans are rising.