Global warming is political. Increasingly so, as former Gov. Tim Pawlenty made clear last week when he announced that he now believes that if global warming is underway it's due to natural causes.
That's why this week some 23 climate scientists from around the country are gathering at William Mitchell Law School in a week-long crash course on how to talk about science to non-scientists. But, as an indication of how politcal the national discussion around global warming has become, the conference organizers decided they couldn’t even talk about it.
They feared that later on politicians and anti-climate change groups might use it to make the case that the scientists who attended are “pro-climate change” instead of merely scientists who study it.
“As a lawyer, I don’t want them to be an advocate for one side or the other,” said Professor John Sonsteng of William Mitchell, who organized the conference. “I want them to justify their science.”
Star Tribune photo
So Sonsteng instead built the course around something that is parallel: A 1972 cloud seeding experiment that went fatally wrong, causing a flood in Rapid City South Dakota that killed 238 people.
“We decided not to do climate change,” Sonsteng said. “We are doing climate engineering.”
The 23 scientists, some major names in climate research, will spend the week subjecting themselves to court room cross examinations, depositions, congressional hearings, and press conferences – all of it based on a 80-page fiction that Sonsteng and his colleagues created around the 1972 event.
“Who caused it? Was it nature’s way or was it due to cloud seeding that was negligent,” Sonsteng said.
It’s funded by a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation because scientists rarely have to discuss, explain or interpret their work outside the scientific arena.
“ My feeling is that scientists have gotten too comfortable with discussing their interpretation of their data and do not give enough thought to listening to other interpretations or perspectives,” wrote David Verado, head of the atmosphere section for the NSF, in an email response to questions. “I see this clearly in the discussions surrounding climate science.”
The need is becoming increasingly acute. The federal government is about to announce new rules limiting green house gas emissions, and Republicans in Congress are fighting them tooth and nail.
Last week Pawlenty, who wants to be president, announced that his view on global warming has changed. In an interview with the Miami Herald he said the science remains unclear – though the vast majority of the scientists would say he’s wrong -- and that Earth's shifting climate is more likely due to natural causes. That's a big swing from the time he advocated for cap-and-trade policies to reduce carbon emissions. He's just one of the reasons why scientists will have to get better at relating to the rest of the world.
“The formulation of policy could be helped by a full throated discussion of the science,” Verado said. “But that can only occur if the scientists are comfortable with acknowledging and being open to alternative interpretations.”