For a while now, scientists have been dealing with a steady stream of climate change denial from the U.S. Congress with a mix of wit and thinly veiled exasperation, but it looks like they've finally run out of patience because some of the top scientific organizations in the country just got together and sent Congress a strongly worded letter.
The two-page missive is a passionate appeal to those in Congress who have been fighting against funding any research or preparation efforts that even smell like an acknowledgement of climate change, a.k.a. that isn't "just God hugging us closer":
"Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science.
There is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is having broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health. For the United States, climate change impacts include greater threats of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems. The severity of climate change impacts is increasing and is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.
To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced. In addition, adaptation is necessary to address unavoidable consequences for human health and safety, food security, water availability, and national security, among others."
Of course, climate science has become so hopelessly tied to ideology that it's very likely the points in this letter will ricochet off members of Congress without making so much as a dent. But they had to try something.
The joint letter was signed by some true VIP scientific societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the American Chemical Society.
Texas Representative Lamar Smith, the good congressman from San Antonio and the current chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, started beating the climate denial drum last year, insisting that studies showing some of the favorite theories of climate deniers are wrong were manipulated by scientists in favor of climate change. Then he went on a mission to obtain various forms of documentation he maintained would prove him right.
First, Smith demanded all National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists' emails exchanged while they were working on a study that has apparently gained the eternal enmity of the House Science Committee chairman since that study debunked a pet theory of climate change deniers — the one that claims that global warming has paused. Smith used everything in his arsenal, from strident public statements to strongly worded public letters and subpoenas, to get the NOAA to produce the emails, all without success, as we've previously reported.
For a while it seemed like Smith was never going to let the NOAA emails request go, but late last year a group of seven scientific organizations signed an open letter to Smith stating that the fight with NOAA is going to royally screw over academic freedom in the United States. Initially, the message didn't seem to register with the congressman, but then, like magic, he suddenly dropped his quest for the NOAA emails.
The rest of the scientific community must have taken note of the effectiveness of the letter-writing approach. Last week, 31 major scientific groups, representing tens of thousands of scientists, sent a similar joint letter to Capitol Hill to underscore the seriousness of climate change and the need to stop arguing that it doesn't exist and start dealing with the reality of the situation.
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The letter couldn't have been sent at a more crucial time. Right now, Smith's House Science Committee continues to investigate peer-reviewed studies of climate change. Meanwhile, House lawmakers are doing their fanciest footwork to block the Pentagon from spending money to implement its plan to adapt to global warming. On top of that, the cash to fund climate change adaptation, a key part of the Paris Climate Agreement, has ended up on the chopping block during negotiations between the House and the Senate.
In fact, the Republican-led House has been so vehemently anti-climate change that it has tried to hack away the budget of any program that even has the word "climate" in it. And the GOP-held Senate has been just as punchy. Last year during a Senate hearing, NASA administrator Charles Bolden had to defend why NASA studies Earth at all.
However, people in the scientific community have already acknowledged that a letter isn't likely to have the kind of effect the authors are hoping for. Climate change has gone from being a debatable scientific issue to being something wrapped up in ideology and belief, Katharine Hayhoe, the famed climate scientist at Texas Tech, told Mashable. "It is clear to most of us, including many of the leaders of those scientific societies, that traditional modes of communication no longer achieve their purpose in a world where ideologically driven opinions supersede facts any day," she stated. "At the same time, however, it makes sense for the societies not to abandon their traditional approach of making statements."
So yeah, the odds of this letter changing minds in Congress aren't high, but at least someday there will be an actual letter on the books showing that thousands of scientists tried to warn Congress, but members didn't want to read the warnings.