Science Leaders Speak Out on Warming

By David L. Brown

In advance of the upcoming Copenhagen meeting on climate change, there has been a recent tidal wave of anti-global warming propaganda. I’ve discussed the subject of climate change denial many times over the years, most recently in an essay titled “Science, Propaganda & Climate Change,” published October 4.

The cacophony of idiocy has further confused members of the public, to the extent that a new poll released today by the Pew Research Center (read their report here) revealed that:

“There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem — 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.”

All of this flies in the face of the virtual unanimity of opinion among scientists qualified to hold serious opinions on the subject of global warming. And, sadly, many if not most members of Congress are unsure about the issues. That’s not surprising considering that most politicians are trained as attorneys and share with the majority of Americans a general lack of sound education in science. Senators and Congressmen also tend to surround themselves with staff having backgrounds in political science, fundraising, opinion polling and the like. Furthermore, Congressional offices are besieged by lobbyists for special interests whose aims often lie in the direction of climate change denial.

Apparently responding to this dismal situation, a group of leaders from major science organizations yesterday sent a letter to each member of the Senate, making the case for action on climate change. The letter is important enough, particularly in view of the powerful reputations of the organizations behind it, that I decided to reproduce it here in its entirety.

October 21, 2009

Dear Senator:

As you consider climate change legislation, we, as leaders of scientific organizations, write to state the consensus scientific view. Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.

These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. Moreover, there is strong evidence that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and on the environment. For the United States, climate change impacts include sea level rise for coastal states, greater threats of extreme weather events, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, urban heat waves, western wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems throughout the country. The severity of climate change impacts is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.

If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases must be dramatically reduced. In addition, adaptation will be necessary to address those impacts that are already unavoidable. Adaptation efforts include improved infrastructure design, more sustainable management of water and other natural resources, modified agricultural practices, and improved emergency responses to storms, floods, fires and heat waves.

We in the scientific community offer our assistance to inform your deliberations as you seek to address the impacts of climate change.

Alan I. Leshner, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Thomas Lane, American Chemical Society

Timothy L. Grove, American Geophysical Union

May R. Berenbaum, American Institute of Biological Sciences

Keith Seitter, American Meteorological Society

Mark Alley, American Society of Agronomy

Tuan-hua David Ho, American Society of Plant Biologists

Sally C. Morton, American Statistical Association

Lucinda Johnson, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers

Kent E. Holsinger, Botanical Society of America

Kenneth Quesenberry, Crop Science Society of America

Mary Power, Ecological Society of America

William Y. Brown, Natural Science Collections Alliance

Brian D. Kloeppel, Organization of Biological Field Stations

Douglas N. Arnold, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics

John Huelsenbeck, Society of Systematic Biologists

Paul Bertsch, Soil Science Society of America

Richard A. Anthes, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

What more can I add? The letter is succinct and to the point; it is written in language that even most Senators can probably understand; and it is signed by the leaders of some of the most prestigious scientific organizations in America. I can only add that I hope that this or a similar letter will soon be going to all U.S. Representatives, leaders of Washington bureaucracy from the White House down to deputy assistant secretaries at every department,  and the offices of every state governor.

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