Self-described climate contrarian tells Pa. House committee global warming alarm is overblown

Gregory Wrightstone, a self-published author, natural gas consultant and member of the Heartland Institute's advisory board, testifies to debunk climate myths Wednesday, March 27, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Gregory Wrightstone’s testimony on what he called climate myths Wednesday ended up drawing a chuckle from a vampire, fairy, and other mythical creatures who gathered to protest a self-described climate contrarian’s take on the global warming.

Wrightstone, a geologist and self-published author with ties to the natural gas industry, was invited to speak to the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee by its chair Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler.

In an hour of testimony and questions, Wrightstone claimed that while human activity is heating the Earth, the potential consequences are not dire as the vast majority of governmental and scientific studies have concluded.

Wrightstone cited increased plant growth and the benefits of a warm climate as opposed to past ice ages while making his case for carbon.

“CO2 has increased. I will argue that’s a good thing,” Wrightstone said after the hearing. “Carbon dioxide increases have been benefitting Earth and humanity.”

Besides increasing global temperatures, built up atmospheric carbon also leads to ocean acidification, which can disrupt ocean ecosystems and threaten people who rely on the sea for food.

Currently, the Earth’s atmosphere is above 400 parts per million carbon. The previous high in recent geological history was 300 parts per million roughly 350,000 years ago, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

While increased carbon is good for plant growth, a recent study found rice grown in a high carbon environment is less nutritious.

Micheal Mann, a Penn State professor of atmospheric science, said in an email that Wrightstone’s acceptance of warming but attempt to portray it as a good thing is an example of a “kindler, gentler form of denial” of climate science.

“The science of climate change impacts … shows that climate change is having very detrimental impacts on us now, many of which are playing out in real time, and these impacts will become far worse,” he wrote.

Mann has previously written that more intense, extreme weather events, from floods to hurricanes to droughts, can be linked to climate change.

In a round of questions, Democratic members assailed Wrightstone for his heterodox positions and questioned his independence by pointing out his connection to the natural gas industry and his links to the Heartland Institute, which worked to undermine the consensus around climate change for years.

Wrightstone said he still occasionally takes work related to natural gas industry, most recently consulting on a lawsuit against a gas company. He bristled at the questioning.

“What does that have to do with this?” he asked. “Do you grill climate scientists to find where their funding comes from?”

Both Gov. Tom Wolf and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, decried the hearing as a waste of time and energy that, as Dermody put it in a statement, does “little to advance a serious legislative agenda.”

Wrightstone also criticized alternative energy sources like solar and wind, saying they likely couldn’t replace carbon-based energy sources. He also said a tax on carbon emissions of the kind even some oil and gas companies like Shell and Exxon have backed would be too regressive and largely born by the poor.

Economists have reached a similar conclusion, although the Washington-based think tank The Brookings Institution has argued that harm could be offset by strengthening anti-poverty measures like the earned income tax credit.

Implementing a nationwide carbon tax would bring in nearly $1.1 trillion in revenue from 2019 through 2028, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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