Climate scientists prepare to take the fight to skeptical politicians

  • Article by: NEELA BANERJEE , Tribune Washington Bureau
  • Updated: November 7, 2010 - 7:31 PM

In a shift, a large scientists' union will actively defend the consensus on the man-made causes of climate change.

WASHINGTON - Faced with increasing political attacks, hundreds of climate scientists are joining a broad campaign to push back against congressional conservatives who have threatened prominent researchers with investigations and have vowed to kill regulations to rein in man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're scared," said John Abraham, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, who is organizing a clearinghouse of experts for the media and others probing climate change. "I think a lot of scientists are scared the window of opportunity is closing. Scientists have not done a good job in communicating the dangers of climate change and the degree of certainty that we're undergoing. And we have an ethical responsibility to communicate effectively."

The efforts reveal a shift among climate scientists, many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media. Many now say they are willing to go toe-to-toe with their critics, some of whom gained new power after the Republicans won control of the House Nov. 2.

On Monday, the American Geophysical Union, the country's largest association of climate scientists, plans to announce that 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of man-made air pollution. Some are prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk-radio and TV shows.

Abraham, who last spring wrote a widely disseminated response to climate-change skeptics, is organizing a "Climate Rapid Response Team," which so far has more than three dozen leading scientists to defend the scientific community's consensus on global warming. Others are also preparing a handbook on the human causes of climate change, which they plan to start sending to U.S. high schools as soon as this fall.

During the recent election campaign, skepticism about climate change became a rallying cry for many Republican candidates. Of the more than 100 new GOP members of Congress, 50 percent are climate-change skeptics, according to an analysis of campaign statements by the Center for American Progress.

Prominent Republican congressmen such as Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Joe Barton, R-Texas, and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., have pledged to investigate the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Abraham, who said his work on the clearinghouse is his own time, acknowledged that the assertiveness by scientists runs a risk of drawing the issue even further into politics.

"But it already is a politicized issue," he said. "What we really need is good information to make tough decisions. We're not promoting a partisan view ... All we're trying to do is provide good information about global warming so people whose job it is to come up with solutions can come up with good ones."

Staff writer Bill McAuliffe contributed to this report.

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