Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who sits on the House Science Committee, has a special relationship with scientists—they’re her constituents. Her district includes the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory, which researches high-energy physics and is developing technology that could enable electric cars to travel twice their current distance before recharging. Biggert worries that candidates like Perry will get the party branded as antiscience. “We seem to be moving ahead in a vein that’s not the scientific way,” she said of Republicans. “And that’s a shame, because there are a lot of us that really believe in the sciences and look to scientists. It’s a concern.”
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a moderate elder statesman who is deeply respected among his party’s old guard, has long been on the record with his worries about the effects of climate change. He signed up his 604-acre farm to participate in the (now defunct) volunteer Chicago Climate Exchange cap-and-trade program, and he has not changed his views about climate science—even though he is expected to be a tea party target in 2012. Lugar calls the Washington climate-change debate “very ill-informed.”
In part, he blames the scientific community for failing to translate and communicate its findings clearly to policymakers in language they can understand. The complexity and nuance is surely ill-suited to the sound-bite simplicity of the Beltway debate. But Lugar says that the only way science can stand up for itself is by entering the fray—loudly, clearly, and simply.
“Many would argue that a predominant number of scientists have said this or that—but whatever they’ve said has not come clearly through to laypersons or members of Congress.… I have gone to conferences for several years and have pled for indicators … that would make a difference in terms of my being able to argue, “ he said. “This may be impractical, but in Times Square, there’s an indicator of how the public debt is rising. We’re going to have to have, for there to be a good public discussion about this, some metric which is understandable.”
But Lugar, like every other lawmaker in Washington, knows full well that Congress has no chance of taking up climate-change legislation any time in the near future. For now, the only policy action that might be possible is battening down the hatches against the floods and droughts that scientists say are on their way—something Lugar saw firsthand when his state suffered devastating flooding earlier this year. “In terms of public policy, we’ll have to deal with more violent storms in the planning of governance for cities that abut rivers and oceans. Whether you buy climate change or not, as a public servant you had better be prepared for many more climate disasters.”
The data showing that combustion of fossil fuels produces emissions that warm the Earth’s atmosphere are ample and historic, and have been rigorously reviewed.
Over the past 18 years, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has produced more than 40 scientific reports and studies on climate change. The most recent, released in May, concludes, “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. Each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted commits us to further change and greater risks…. The environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks of climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts.”
The world’s largest general-scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has published this official statement: “The scientific evidence is clear: Global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.… The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse-gas emissions is now.”
The world’s major national scientific institutes, including the official academies of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and the United Kingdom have independently published concurring conclusions.
So have the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Physics, the American Medical Association, the American Meteorological Society, the American Physical Society, the American Society of Agronomy, the American Society for Microbiology, the Crop Science Society of America, the Geological Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America, and the World Health Organization—among many other scientific bodies.
In June 2010, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that 97 percent of climate scientists agree on the tenets of anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change, a level of consensus that the journal called “striking,” given the uncertainty often present in scientific research.