If any common ground on the issue of climate change was discovered during a Pennsylvania House of Representatives committee hearing on the topic Wednesday, it would have been difficult for any observer to discern it.
In a move that attracted criticism before the hearing had even begun, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the chairman of the House Environment Resources and Energy Committee, invited noted climate change skeptic Gregory Wrightstone to testify on the topic. No other speakers were scheduled to appear at the hearing.
Wrightstone, a geologist whose self-published writings have appeared on some of Amazon’s bestseller lists, insisted that reports showing that 97 percent of the scientific community backs the idea of man-made climate change are flawed.
“Consensus is not science and science is not consensus,” Wrightstone said. “That's not the way the scientific process works. … We're going to look back, the scientific community is going to look back in 10, 20 or 30 years, and be ashamed of what's going on by the silencing of the scientific community concerning any science that doesn't support this consensus opinion.”
His testimony arguing that the increases seen in global temperatures are actually a positive for the environment drew a series of pointed questions from Democratic lawmakers.
“The champions of business, the Department of Defense, all of these people have reviewed the same evidence and come to the conclusion climate change is real, it's caused by humans, and we’d better act,” said the Democratic chairman, Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Havertown. “So my question is, why should this committee take your truth, as opposed to what the overwhelming science, the science of the world tells us?”
When Wrightstone noticed that Vitali was attending to requests from Democratic members of the committee to take a turn speaking, rather than focusing on the response to his question, the geologist rebuked the lawmaker.
“My job is to ascertain what other members want to ask questions,” Vitali said.
“Well, fine, you can do that when I'm done here,” Wrightstone replied.
Later in the hearing, Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Exton, questioned Wrightstone on why his status as a geologist qualified him to speak on issues of climate.
“Would you agree that you don't have the qualifications to comment on economics and jobs and the weather?” Otten asked.
“I'm not an economist, what I do is rely on experts–” Wrightstone began.
“You're not an economist. Thank you,” Otten interrupted, cutting Wrightstone off.
Remarking upon the Otten-Wrightsone exchange, Metcalfe expressed wonderment at the way the discussion unfolded.
“Kind of interesting coming from politicians, when so many politicians claim to be experts in so much that they're really experts on so little of,” he said.
Toward the end of the hearing, Vitali tried to pin down whether Wrightstone was somehow connected financially to the fossil fuel industry. When he sought to ask when Wrightstone had last received payment from a natural gas company for consulting work, Metcalfe interrupted and refused to allow that line of questioning to continue.
“Just the insinuation is kind of insulting to begin with, and he already answered it, I found, in a very, very credible way, very honest way with you,” Metcalfe said. “So we're gonna move on.”
Hours before the hearing, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf weighed in on Twitter regarding Wrightstone’s appearance, questioning the value of his testimony.
“We've seen the impacts of climate change with our own eyes,” Wolf wrote. “Using a taxpayer-funded hearing to minimize this threat is a waste of time. We need action, not a debate over this fact.”
Metcalfe, however, made clear that he found Wrightstone’s testimony to be compelling.
“We appreciate [your] expertise and helping us to debunk some of the myths that are out there in the public right now,” he said at the close of the hearing. “We need more of this.”