Friday, November 12, 2010

Climatologists gird for scrutiny by GOP skeptics

Climate scientists say they are more prepared than ever to defend their work if a Republican-controlled House amps up skepticism of global warming. Last fall's release of stolen e-mails among climate scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and the news of errors in a major United Nations climate report didn't undermine the broad consensus that human activity is changing the climate, but the episodes "provided new fodder for climate skeptics and prompted a barrage of often unflattering press coverage," Lauren Morello of Environment & Energy News reports.

"With Republicans set to take control of the House in January, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that climate scientists could face an even harsher environment next year," Morello writes. Richard Somerville, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, said those predictions don't scare him or his colleagues. "Because we've gone through this very unpleasant year, we're much better prepared," he told Morello. "The community, taken as a whole, is more willing to speak out."

At least one climate scientist says he isn't convinced that Republicans will even attack global warming research. "I have an open mind about what Congress will do," Michael Oppenheimer, who directs the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at Princeton University, told Morello. "If there is an aggressive effort to undermine the science based on contrarianism rather than reasonable questioning -- which Congress has an obligation to do -- will the science community be in a better position to respond? I don't know. I hope so."

In the wake of the past year's controversies, climate scientists are doing more to reach out to the public. Oppenheimer is participating in a American Geophysical Union program that will marshal 700 scientist-volunteers to answer reporters' science questions. "John Abraham, a professor of thermal science at the University of St. Thomas, is organizing a similar, but separate, 'climate rapid response team' of about 40 scientists," Morello writes. (Read more, subscription required)

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