Republicans defiant after Obama mocks their stance on science

By Jean Chemnick, Ariel Wittenberg | 01/21/2015 01:05 PM EST

President Obama used his State of the Union speech last night to mock Republicans who oppose government action on climate change who say nonscientists lack the chops to engage on global warming issues.

"Well, I’m not a scientist, either," Obama said. "But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], and at our major universities.

"The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans; longer, hotter heat waves; dangerous droughts and floods; and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict and hunger around the globe."

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NASA and NOAA released data last week that showed that 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. That’s part of a trend, Obama said, with 14 of the warmest years in history being recorded in the last 15 years.

While Obama said that should put climate naysayers in their place, Republicans aren’t budging.

"I agree that the president is not a scientist, and that is surely right," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). With Murray Energy Corp. CEO Robert Murray as his guest for the speech last night, Cruz said NOAA and NASA excluded data that would have shown that warming wasn’t occurring in the way they say it has.

"An inconvenient truth, so to speak, is the simple fact that for the last 17 years, there has been no recorded increase in temperatures," Cruz said. His office did not respond to requests this morning to elaborate.

Cruz, whose name is routinely included among possible Republican presidential contenders in 2016, dismissed Democrats’ tendency to ridicule as "climate deniers" those who question the science behind man-made drivers of global warming. That term, he said, shows that the issue is an article of faith rather than a subject of scientific inquiry.

"Scientists should not be in business in accepting hypothesis as theological fate," he said. "They should be looking to facts and evidence."

Well over 90 percent of climate scientists say the facts and evidence point to a substantial human role in driving recent warming. But Cruz said the crisis was invented by liberals to gain "massive government control of the economy, the energy industry and our lives."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said man-made climate change runs counter to Judeo-Christian theology.

"To say that climate change is an urgent problem is like the tower of Babylon," Barton said in an interview after the speech. He was referring to the Book of Genesis account of the Tower of Babel.

"In the Bible, the people thought man had so much knowledge that he could reach the heavens by building what we now know is the tower of Babylon," he said. "But there are limits to what man can do. But there is no limit to what God can do."

But House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition Co-Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) said religions place a value on stewardship of the Earth, including the need to combat warming.

Containing heat-trapping emissions is "better for our future and better for our children to breathe clean air," he said. "Every faith reminds us that we are indeed stewards of the environment."

Obama was widely expected to cite Pope Francis’ statement earlier this year that humans are behind harmful warming, but he instead mentioned the pope in the context of liberalizing relations with Cuba.

Democrats also expressed appreciation for Obama’s derisive tone in discussing Republican opposition to climate action.

"I think some of the stuff that they say is best responded to lightheartedly, and I thought that was a good moment in the speech for the president," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said of the Republicans, "There is tremendous denial on that side of the aisle. Science isn’t too high on their radar."

Reporter Matthew Herbert contributed.

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