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ASA Visits Capitol Hill During Seventh Climate Science Day

1 May 2017 190 views No Comment

Amy Nussbaum, ASA Science Policy Fellow

    On March 21, statisticians Peter Bloomfield, Noel Cressie, Dorit Hammerling, and Leonard Smith joined 23 other scientists from 13 scientific societies on Capitol Hill for the 7th annual Climate Science Day (CSD). Sponsored by the ASA and other scientific societies, the event puts scientists in the same room as lawmakers and their staffs for frank discussions about climate science research. ASA CSD participants visited Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio offices, as well as various committee and EPA staff members.

    As in past years, messages were targeted to possible effects of climate change in specific districts—for instance, drought in the southeast or increased instances of other extreme events. By using such examples, CSD participants hoped to emphasize that climate science affects many people in many ways all over the country. In addition, policy conversations were avoided, giving the science a chance to shine.

    CSD participants note the tone of the meetings has been changing over the years. Many of the meetings were positive, and more staffers seem to acknowledge the human role in climate change. According to Leonard Smith of the London School of Economics and Pembroke College, Oxford, and the only participant to have attended all seven Climate Science Days, the reception felt much different, especially compared to seven years ago. “The desire for open, honest, transparent information on climate is like nothing I have ever seen on Capitol Hill before,” he says. “The Republican Climate Resolution (H. Res. 195), the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, and the healthy disagreement between republican offices on climate issues each evidence a willingness for more open discussion,” Smith continued. “For CSD participants and the greater scientific community, these developments open new doors for science to inform. As a Gator, I’m also proud of the lead that Florida republicans are taking on the CSC and H.Res. 195.”

    Participant Dorit Hammerling of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, says, “I was impressed by the interest and knowledge of the staffers, as well as the generally congenial atmosphere of the meetings.” Hammerling and her team visited the office of Rep. Coffman (R-CO), whose staffers seemed particularly curious and open-minded. In the week following Climate Science Day, Rep. Coffman joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH), indicating a true interest in the quality of the environment and solutions to current problems.

    Noel Cressie, formerly of The Ohio State University and now at the University of Wollongong in Australia, says, “My pitch was to be a resource for them in matters of the environment and climate-change impacts, which I think is how we can make a real difference.”

    Content-wise, the meetings varied widely. Peter Bloomfield of North Carolina State University was paired with a state climatologist and noted that some of the people really responded to the climatology side and weather effects in the short run, while others responded to the global aspect of climate science. One staff member asked about the provenance and reliability of climate change data, leading to a fruitful discussion. Still others recognized the impact of climate events on their home districts and saw that scientists can be counted among their allies when it comes to finding solutions to new problems.

    A workshop held on the previous afternoon featured Rep. Bill Foster (IL), the only PhD physicist in Congress, and former Rep. Bob Inglis (SC), now an outspoken champion for climate science. These perspectives were especially helpful for participants. Smith says, “I was particularly struck by Congressman Bob Inglis’ plea that scientists, as individuals, ‘do not become an advocate,’ lest we undermine our credibility. This resonates with my experience and with my personal aims regarding the ‘science to inform’/ ‘science to motivate’ divide.”

    Other events included a congressional staff briefing and Q&A session and presentations with advice for a successful Hill meeting. Participants were able to meet with their assigned teams, strategize, and develop their message and ask based on the offices they would be visiting.

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