More Uncertainty in an Uncertain World

A Senate hearing this week looking at the use of science and fact-based analysis in rulemaking took an unusual turn over a couple of shocking statements about the planet Earth.

One senator pointed to comments made in February by NBA Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, who suggested in a radio podcast that the earth might be flat.

Then, on March 9, Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said on CNBC that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming and that the issue needed more study.

EPA chief Pruitt

The problem is that “frequently” people have different sets of facts, said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) at the hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Worse, when Irving suggested the world was flat, one response was his opinion should be respected, Heitkamp said. “And I’m thinking maybe not, because Galileo dealt with this,” she said.

“Have you ever been to Western Oklahoma?” deadpanned Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who made clear he was joking.

In terms of climate change, the argument is not the level of agreement among scientists, but the very large weight of evidence, said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“And if you look at that weight of evidence, it’s quite compelling any possible way you look at it,” he said.

Rosenberg said that Pruitt’s statements are concerning, not only because he doesn’t believe that CO2 is a primary contributor to global warming, but equally, that the uncertainty is so high that policymakers can’t act.


Opioid crisis or global warming, policymakers have to consider what is at risk, Rosenberg said.

“It seems to me that the uncertainty is relatively low about whether global warming is occurring,” Rosenberg said. “There certainly is higher uncertainty about localized effects, but the risk of not taking action is quite high.”