Freedman: Coalition Advises Candidates on Climate
A coalition of earth science organizations representing thousands of scientists recently did something that you don't often see scientists do: they publicly united to deliver a challenge to political leaders in the midst of a heated political season. By calling for weather and climate research to be a higher priority on the national agenda, the groups reached across the divide between science and politics.
Keep reading for more on the advice to the candidates from these scientific organizations. For local weather, see our full forecast.
The groups sent a strong message in their presidential "transition document", telling the candidates that the next administration should provide more resources and more effective management of climate and weather-related programs, or else policymakers will continue to make major decisions with blinders on.
Earth science groups have issued recommendations during previous presidential campaign seasons, but this one is noteworthy for its more urgent tone and warning that scientists' are having great difficulty meeting the information demands of policy makers' on weather and climate issues.
The scientific organizations, which include the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society (AMS), issued the document in part to ensure that the issues that have frustrated earth science professionals during much of the Bush administration and recent congressional sessions are not perpetuated into the next.
"... we are being hampered in our efforts to understand the impacts of these [climate] changes by lack of political leadership and needed resources for science, observation, and computing," the coalition stated in its 12-page memo to the candidates.
Earth scientists' frustrations mainly center around stagnant or shrinking research budgets in some key areas of climate science, such as NASA's earth science programs, as well as years in which the Bush administration interfered with climate science and let gaps persist in the coordination of the broad inter-agency climate science enterprise.
In an email exchange, AMS executive director Keith Seitter, Jack Fellows of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, and John Snow of the University of Oklahoma, all of whom contributed to the recommendations, told Capital Weather Gang that "The Bush Administration has had to deal with a lot of very difficult issues over the past few years. So, this has made it difficult to provide the needed resources in this area [weather and climate research]."
"Even when the Administration has made substantial requests and the Congress supported those requests, subsequent impasses in the budget process have significantly reduced or eliminated all together that support," they said.
According to the groups, the absence of significant budget increases has led to only incremental gains in knowledge about how climate change will affect "key human resources" such as food production and water availability. Greater investment is needed, the coalition said, in order to provide decision makers with more policy-useful scientific information.
The groups called for approximately doubling the currently planned spending for climate and weather research programs during the 2010 to 2014 period, which would mean spending about $9 billion more than is currently in the pipeline.
What would these scientists do with $9 billion additional dollars? They say they would build more powerful supercomputers that can better pinpoint what the regional effects of climate change may be, as well as establish a more advanced network of observational instruments.
I see two issues with the call for more money for faster computers. The first is that it's not exactly a done deal that more computer "power" will result in better information that government officials can then translate into regulations. For example, one prominent climate blogger and computer modeler, Gavin Schmidt of realclimate.org, told Andrew Revkin on his Dot Earth blog that more bytes are likely to reduce some climate science uncertainties but not others, at least not right away.
In addition, the call for more funding does open climate scientists up to further attacks from those who don't believe climate change is manmade, and who see it as a widespread conspiracy by to drum up more research funding. That has been a familiar line of attack on more right-wing web sites. It's nonsense, but it's out there.
But the science groups aren't only seeking additional funding to buy more powerful computers. Rather, they're looking for a whole-scale commitment from the next president that he will take climate change and weather research needs more seriously, and provide scientists with what they need to contribute to the decisionmaking process.
On that note, the coalition recommends careful consideration of proposals for an integrated federal earth science agency or national climate service, both of which are getting serious attention from experts in and out of government.
"Federal law requires the President to develop a coordinated national policy on global climate change. Yet, coordination of federal weather and climate activities remains inadequate," the groups stated. To that end, the groups call for an official on par with the national security adviser or economic adviser to oversee climate science programs.
Considering the high stakes involved in climate science and policy, it's about time that science organizations got together to provide detailed earth science recommendations to the candidates. Now let's see whether McCain or Obama heed that advice. Science debate 2008, anyone?
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