Last Friday afternoon, I received a phone call, inviting me to testify to Congress about climate change and fisheries. I try to never say no to speaking invitations, so when Congress calls, I figured I had to do my part. This started a whirlwind week:
Saturday--started looking all those fish and climate papers I'd been meaning to read. Started outlining my testimony. Managed to go for a snorkel in the ocean--very warm.
Monday--drove to Gloucester for a NOAA workshop on incorporating climate change information into protected species. Interesting meeting, but hard not to think about delivering for Congress.
Monday PM-Tuesday AM--worked on my written testimony. This would be my official statement for the record, due to the committee by 5PM on Tuesday.
--still at the workshop. Had to duck out for a couple of hours in the afternoon to get my testimony finished and submitted. If you're curious, here's what I turned in (PershingHR6096.pdf
Wednesday--went to the office and tried to do some work. Mostly, I read papers and worked on prepping for my 5 min oral summary. Had dinner with the family, went to band practice, then drove down to Boston. Spent the drive talking to myself.
Thursday AM--the big day! Flew to DC, had lunch while muttering to myself. I think there were a few others in the restaurant doing the same thing. DC is a funny town.
--met with Kyle Molton who is a Sea Grant Knauss fellow
in Rep. Chellie Pingree's (D-ME) office. Kyle was a Marine Science major at UMaine and then did a Masters at Michigan State. We had a great discussion about fisheries issues in New England, careers in marine science, and the Knauss program. Congresswoman Pingree sat down for a few minutes, and we discussed the challenges facing the lobster industry. She had an impressive grasp of the issues.
1:45--made my way to the hearing room. The purpose of the hearing was to provide information for the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Insular Affairs as they figure out what to do with three bills:
-a bill to allow recreational fishing for striped bass in Block Island Sound
-a bill to allow Texas to build a facility to pump water from a zebra mussel-infested lake in Oklahoma, clean the water, and then pump it into a reservoir in Texas.
-a bill to reauthorize several statutes related to Atlantic Fisheries.
--hearing began. Chairman Fleming made some opening remarks, followed by ranking minority member Sablan from the Northern Mariana Islands. There was strong bi-partisan agreement that "anadromous
" was hard to pronounce. Then, the first panel began.
Panel 1--(Time lost its meaning about now). The first panel was a single individual, Rep. Pete Sessions from Texas. He introduced the zebra mussel bill and then took some questions from Fleming and Sablan. This was when my mouth went totally dry. I noticed Rep. Sessions got a water bottle. Can I get a water bottle? Maybe he brought is own or maybe they just give them out to Congressmen. Oh man, I'm so thirsty.
Panel 2--The panelists were from NOAA, US Fish and Wildlife, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. They each made their statements and took questions. A couple of guest Congressmen from Texas joined the subcommittee. They grilled the guy from Fish and Wildlife. In particular, they wanted to know how many zebra mussels he'd killed. They were pretty convinced that the Texas pump system would kill lots of them. This was when my hands started to shake. I've killed my share of Cayuga Lake zebra mussels, but I wasn't sure my history of zebra-cide would be enough to appease these guys.
Panel 3--Oh heck, here we go. At least I did get a bottle of water. I was on a panel with four others. The mayor of Plano, TX and the head of the North Texas Municipal Water District were there to talk zebra mussels (or zero mussels, or zebra snails depending on who was talking). There were two guys representing fishing in the Mid-Atlantic and another who owned a fleet of party boats operating off of Long Island (my favorite panelist). Then, there was yours truly,working hard to bring some nerd-cred to the proceedings.
Each of the panelists made their statements. I noticed that all of them had shaky hands and were sucking down water (thankfully, zebra mussel-free). This made me feel better. Then it was my turn. I gave a quick summary of who I am and why I was there. I acknowledged the strong scientific consensus that carbon dioxide causes warming. I then talked about how overfishing makes populations more sensitive to climate change, using northern cod as an example. Then, I moved on to page two. Oh no, where's page two? It must be there, 'cause I was just reading it. Drat, it's stuck in the middle of my notepad. Do I rustle it out of the pad, or do I go for it without a net? I decided to keep going and launched into a discussion of how regime shifts, like we saw in the Gulf of Maine, put a premium on high quality observations and models. At least that's what I wanted to say, for all I know, I may have given a recipe for cooking zebra mussels.
--Because of the schizophrenic nature of the meeting, the questions bounced from panelist to panelist, depending on the interests of the committee member. Rep. Sablan seemed the most interested in my work. He kindly tossed me a couple of softballs, asking me to talk about climate-driven range shifts in fish (thankfully, I had just reread Janet Nye's paper
Then, Congressman Markey, the ranking minority member of the Natural Resources Committee, showed up. He started by saying he wanted to ask me a question, then went into a long, but interesting speech on fish. I was never sure when he would stop and expect me to respond. As he approached the 5 minute mark, he asked me to talk about warming and lobsters. Thank you NERACOOS! The temperatures in the Gulf are more than a month ahead of where they normally would be. Not surprisingly, the lobsters tracked this change and came inshore earlier. Long story short, lots of lobsters is good for lobster consumers but really tough for lobstermen.
I thought I was really grooving, that is, until Chairman Fleming got tired of zebra snails and turned to me. Here's the dialog, as best I can recall:
Chairman: "Are you a climatologist?"
Professor: "No, I'm a biological oceanographer."
Chairman: "So, you're not a climatologist?"
Professor: "No, but I have to keep up with the climate literature for my research."
Chairman: "Do you agree that this warm summer is not evidence for climate change?"
Professor: "I would be the last one to assert that any one event is evidence for climate change, just as a snowstorm in winter is not evidence against it. However, climate change has increased the odds of very warm conditions like we've experienced"
Chairman: "Did you know that CO2 levels have decreased?"
Professor: "I know that the rate of CO2 emissions has decreased, but CO2 concentrations are still increasing"
Chairman: "But they went down?"
Professor: "Yes, the rate went down"
Chairman: "And it still got warm?"
Professor: "Yes, it has been very warm."
Chairman: "So you would agree that CO2 decreased and it still got warmer"
Professor: "Yes" (note, I was a bit flustered and it was very clear that I was not going to get time to explain anything. Wish I'd said something like "no" or "no comment" or "You want the truth, you can't handle the truth!").
As you can tell, I'm not entirely happy with my response. I think maybe he got me to say for the record that CO2 levels went down and temperature still went up. Well, first off, CO2 levels have not declined. They are higher this year
than they were the year before and the year before that. The rate of increase has declined due to the global recession, but levels are still increasing because more CO2 is going into the atmosphere than the oceans and biosphere can absorb. So, either I betrayed climate science, or I lied to Congress. Or perhaps I offered my support for naming striped bass "America's fish." Everything is still foggy.
Rep. Markey did come in and try to help me out (at least, I think that's what he was doing). He told the story of his grandfather coming over to the US from Ireland and how the CO2 from the ship is probably still in the atmosphere. (Ooh! Ooh! Let me answer! Let me answer!) He next told us about a large block of ice that just broke off Greenland
(news to me). He suggested we call it "Denier Island" and put 'em all on it. (Please keep going, don't want to touch that one...). Then he went on to poke the majority a bit on not wanting to have broader hearings on climate change. And then, it was over.
Friday AM: It's 1AM and I've been in the airport since 6PM, yesterday. I'm still trying to process the experience. I liked getting to see firsthand how the Hill works. I also enjoyed getting to talk about what I know to a very different audience. I was less excited about seeing how political everything is--whether climate change or even zebra mussels. I don't think that trying to understand how the world is changing is a political statement, but unfortunately, for some people it is.