Briefly Noted—Climate science and government accountability


“Heed This Warning” (Washington Post, September 28, 2006)
“Beneath its dry scientific lingo, a new analysis of global climate change by a group of NASA scientists is terrifying….Most of all, it will require an end to denial…”
“Land’s End Founder Comer Dies at 78”  (AP, Oct. 5, 2006)
Gary Comer Profile: An Entrepreneur Does Climate Science” (Science, Feb. 24, 2006, subscription; see Details)
“Accountability determined to strike in U.S.” (Tom Toles, Washington Post, Oct. 9, 2006)

The February 24 issue of Science included an excellent profile on Gary Comer’s support for research on abrupt climate change, including quotes on his role from Rowland, Broecker, Alley, Rahmsdorf, and others.  “Who needs to go to the moon?” Comer asked. ”  Take care of Earth.”  Those of you with subscriptions to Science on-line can read the full article here.  An excerpt:

Science 24 February 2006:
Vol. 311. no. 5764, pp. 1088 – 1090
DOI: 10.1126/science.311.5764.1088

News Focus

An Entrepreneur Does Climate Science

Richard A. Kerr

Lands’ End founder Gary Comer—former king of the clothing catalogs—has turned a high-Arctic epiphany into millions for no-strings funding of research into abrupt climate change. But the transforming funding is about to end

Gary Comer knew something wasn’t right. John Franklin and 128 companions had famously tackled the Northwest Passage in 1845, and none of them returned. Roald Amundsen finally conquered the passage in 1906; it took him 3 years. Yet in the summer of 2001, Comer was motoring unscathed through open Arctic waters that should have been ice-clogged. He made the transit over the top of North America in just 19 days. “We were able to do it, and so many people had failed,” he says. “Something had happened.”

It was global warming, Comer decided. Months later, he began to work on the problem of sudden changes in his beloved Arctic. ” I had some cash,” he recalls, having the day before cleared about $1 billion selling his Lands’ End catalog business. And his sense of urgency had been sharpened by a recent diagnosis of prostate cancer. So he told a Nobel-laureate geochemist, ” I’d like to do something that would be helpful” about global warming.

Thus began Comer’s freewheeling research enterprise targeting climate’s propensity for sudden, potentially debilitating shifts. He hoped to awaken the American public to the threat of global warming. His approach was unconventional but not so surprising coming from a world-class sailor, empire builder, and former ad man: Identify a few top-notch senior scientists; give them money, unsolicited, to support up-and-coming young scientists; fund fieldwork nobody else would touch; and then—less predictably—jump in and enjoy the science.

Tens of millions of dollars later, Comer has made an impression. ” He changed the field” of abrupt climate change, says glacial geologist George Denton of the University of Maine, Orono. And ” he changed my life. He’s something very special. This guy is thinking about the world; he thinks something has to be done.” Comer hopes that money well spent on a key climate unknown will prompt the federal government to take up the burden. ” Who needs to go to the moon?” he asks. ” Take care of Earth.” ….

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