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House Science Committee's Breitbart tweet sets off alarm bells for liberals

The tweet highlighted government opposition to climate efforts and raised concerns about the rise of the the conservative, white nationalist 'alt-right' movement.

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The US House Science Committee drew criticism from the science community after tweeting on Thursday a link to Breitbart article suggesting that recent warming was the result of the El Niño weather pattern rather than climate change.

Screen grab from @HouseScience/Twitter

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A US House Science Committee tweet promoting a climate-change denying article has raised questions about the future of climate science under the next administration.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology shared an article from so-called alt-right news and opinion site Breitbart News. According to the article, climate change is driven entirely by weather events like El Niño and La Niña. Reports of extreme temperatures, the author concluded, were simply “propaganda.”

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The future of climate science and the role of the conservative, white nationalist "alt-right" movement in the incoming administration have both been concerns for liberals, in particular, since Donald Trump was elected as the next president in November. Unsurprisingly, then, a tweet bringing the two issues together generated criticism from a range of quarters.

Scientists pushed back against the idea of a “climate hiatus,” while one member of the House Science Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Texas, tweeted, “False news & false facts put us all in danger…

The House Science Committee oversees NASA, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others. It largely determines what research is funded, and so has tremendous influence over environmental policy. For those concerned about climate change, the fact that the committee shared a story denying human impacts on the climate is therefore problematic.

Last week, policy advisors to President-elect Trump announced that the incoming administration would curb NASA’s role in climate research. Mr. Trump, who described climate change as a “hoax” while on the campaign trail, hopes to reorient the agency toward space.

Scientists have expressed concern that his attitude could spell bad news for climate research as a whole, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Joseph Dussault wrote on Tuesday. NASA's climate research would likely be redistributed to agencies such as NOAA, which have limited budgets. What's more, many research activities rely on NASA satellite data, which may no longer be available.

Sharing the Breitbart story, in particular, has reinforced liberals’ concerns about the role of the alt-right in the next administration. Steve Bannon, who was recently appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to the president-elect, formerly served as the executive chairman of Breitbart. And members of the alt-right see him as someone who will help the Trump campaign keep its promises, including such divisive commitments as building a wall on the US-Mexico border.

Of course, the rise of Donald Trump is not the only force behind the House Science Committee’s apparent opposition to climate efforts.

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Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas, who chairs the committee, has criticized the Paris climate agreement, which aims to curb global temperature rise.

“The United States’ contribution to the Paris climate agreement, which includes the Clean Power Plan, could cost up to $176 billion annually, and would have no significant impacts on climate change,” he said in a statement posted on the Committee’s website.