Here Is Exactly What the Chamber of Commerce Thinks About Global Warming

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called 'clean coal,' which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2,1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground. (National Journal)

A Senate hearing Thursday on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline produced a clear piece of news: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn't especially fond of talking about humans' contribution to global warming.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez asked the Chamber's Karen Harbert whether the Chamber agrees that climate change is real and caused by humans.

"The Chamber has a long record on climate and here is what it is: Number one, we support addressing our environment [with] things that work," said Harbert, who heads the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, in response.

She then noted that U.S. carbon emissions have been falling already and said Europe's cap-and-trade program isn't working.

"We want to be in favor of things that work, technologies that work, that put Americans back to work, so we strongly believe in improving the environment while also protecting the economy," said Harbert, who later in the hearing would note the Chamber's support for green-technology R&D and energy-efficiency legislation.

But Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, kept pressing on his specific climate query. "That's not responsive to my question," Menendez said. "I asked a very simple question: Does the Chamber believe that climate change is real and caused by humans? Yes or no?"

Harbert replied: "We believe that we should be doing everything in our power to address the environment."

Menendez replied: "That's great. But is climate change caused ... is it real?"

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Harbert: "The climate is warming, without a doubt."

Menendez: "So climate change is real. Is it caused by humans?"

Harbert: "And the other part of that answer is, is it warming as much as some of my colleagues on this panel have predicted in the past, and the answer is no." (The witness panel included former NASA climate scientist James Hansen and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.)

Menendez: "I am going to get to that, too ... but you have got to give me your answer: Is it caused by humans?"

Harbert: "It is caused by lots of different things, and you can't say that climate change is only caused by humans. I think the science is what you're pointing to, and we have a robust debate going on in this country, as we should, and those that would say everything is settled sort of undercut the integrity of science. It's an ongoing discussion."

So, at the end of all that, the Chamber is acknowledging a human contribution to climate change. But Harbert's framing underplays the extent of agreement among scientists that human activities, including carbon emissions from fossil fuels, are the key driver of global warming.

For instance, a recent joint report by the National Academy of Sciences and the U.K.'s Royal Society concludes that recent climate change is "largely" caused by humans, and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year concluded there's at least a 95 percent chance that humans have been the "dominant" cause of warming since the mid-20th century.

The Menendez-Harbert exchange on climate begins at the 59:50 mark here.