Climate Science Day Successful, Educational
Steve Pierson, ASA Director of Science Policy
The third annual Climate Science Day (CSD) took place February 27, with the ASA providing eight of the 50 participating scientists of many disciplines. The 23 teams combined for a total of more than 140 meetings on Capitol Hill in personal offices and with committee staff.
The ASA participants were Brooke Anderson of The Johns Hopkins University, Peter Guttorp of the University of Washington, Robert Lund of Clemson University, Richard Katz of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Roger Peng of The Johns Hopkins University, Leonard Smith of the London School of Economics and Pembroke College, Oxford, Richard L. Smith of The University of North Carolina and SAMSI, and Michael Stein of The University of Chicago). This was Leonard Smith’s third CSD and Guttorp’s and Richard Smith’s second. Five of this year’s participants were from the ASA Advisory Committee for Climate Change Policy (ACCCP).
The ASA participants all found the experience to be worthwhile for various reasons. Richard Smith said, “Several of the people we met reinforced the importance of scientists doing this sort of thing. Even if we may disagree on aspects of climate change, it is still helpful to make them aware that we are interested in working with them and serving as a source of information when it is needed.”
Referring to the challenge of discussing climate-related issues in some offices, ACCCP Chair Katz said there was always a way to initiate a conversation. “A time series plot of the annual frequency of (and aggregate losses from) U.S. billion-dollar weather and climate disasters sparked interesting discussions about the economic impact of climate change.”
Peng said he enjoyed his CSD experience, adding, “It was a great experience to be able to talk to the staffers in the various congressional offices and committees and to see how genuinely interested they were in our research and its potential impacts on policy. I think building these kinds of connections is important for all scientists, and I believe developing these relationships will be important for the future.” Because of Peng’s research expertise on the health impacts of climate change, he met with majority and minority staff for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension committee. Peng also had the opportunity to summarize his research to Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment.
Anderson commented on what she learned from the experience: “A main goal of this day was to inform congressmen and senators about climate science, but I feel I learned at least as much as I relayed. One of the most interesting parts of the day was hearing what these congressmen and senators consider to be the most important climate-related concerns in their districts.”
Guttorp noted another aspect of participating in Climate Science Day: the interactions with other scientists. “Being paired with another Washington State scientist I didn’t previously know was very useful. We turned out to have lots of interests in common and are likely to keep in touch.”
In addition to experiencing a day of Hill meetings, the participants took part in an afternoon of training on communicating climate science and interacting with Congress. This year’s climate science communications expert was Susan Joy Hassol, who wrote the oft-read piece in Physics Today, “Communicating the Science of Climate Change.”
A panel of four congressional committee staffers—one Republican and one Democrat staffer from both the House and Senate—also shared their advice to the participants for how to communicate with congressional staff. Asked about the partisan divide on climate science issues, one of the panelists noted it is helpful to think of it as differences based on whether the district or state they represent is coastal or non-coastal, urban or rural, energy producing or energy importing, etc.
Climate Science Day is supported by the ASA’s section on Statistics and the Environment and organized by the Climate Change Working Group (CSWG), co-chaired by ASA Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson. CSWG is made up of representatives from various science societies or institutions who meet monthly to share information and coordinate activities. The group worked together on a 2009 letter to U.S. senators signed by the heads of 18 sciences societies and organizations that climate change is happening and that human activity is a primary driver.