I could post a picture of Lamar Smith, the Republican chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, but suffice it to say he’s an old white guy with glasses. Since that also describes me, I prefer to believe that tells you little about the person and so I’ll post the portrait of Smith’s congressional district in Texas instead, whose contorted shape tells you most of what you need to know.
Smith is hitting the news in the New York Times today as he ratchets up his rhetoric against the government scientists at NOAA who’ve had the temerity to publish their findings that a purported hiatus in the rise of planetary temperatures is not true, a finding that has been reproduced extensively elsewhere but is discomfiting to climate denialists. It is a good time to raise a stink, since Obama is in Paris at the World Climate Conference, and the way the rules are set up it makes great politics for Republicans to signal the rest of the world that the US can’t be trusted to fulfill any commitments to reduce the emissions that cause global warming. To the extent the Republicans are successful, that act alone contributes to climate change.
Smith hails from a stolidly Republican district in a mostly rural District 21 in Texas that lies north of San Antonio and west of Austin. As a result of creative map-making the district is significantly whiter than Texas as a whole and has a significantly lower household income ($56k/year versus $63k/year according to Wikipedia). Being white and lower-income makes District 21 a meat-and-potatoes Republican district, garnished only with a soupçon of liberals shaved away from the suburbs of San Antonio and Austin but safely less than what it would take to make a race in District 21 interesting. Clearly as long as Smith keeps his nose clean according to Republican party standards he is safe in the House, which gives him leeway to be a bit of a kook on climate change if he wants.
He obviously wants to be a kook on climate science, though interestingly his own history shows he probably doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. An intriguing US News & World Report article from last month indicates he was more forthcoming about the human causes of global warming earlier in his career, but all that changed once he set his sights on the chair of the House Committee. More recently he may also have been alarmed by a Tea Party challenge, which artificially conservative districts like his seem to invite. But nowadays, having obtained his committee chairmanship, he is perfectly positioned to rake in money from carbon-intensive energy interests, who must be thrilled with his efforts to cower the scientific community about climate change.
- Smith is safely ensconced in a conservative gerrymandered district, with nothing really to worry about from his constituents other than a challenge from the fringe right, which his corporate donors protect him from.
- If he taunts and intimidates client scientists, he draws more funding from carbon-based energy interests.
- To the extent he is personally successful, he retards progress in addressing climate change, which
- Accelerates global warming.