Revelle Medal winner Pieter Tans on the climate disinformation campaign

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Climate Scientist Pieter Tans / Photo: NOAA

“We are facing a well-organized and well-funded campaign attacking our science and our integrity, spreading confusion and disinformation,” says Pieter P. Tans, a leading climate scientist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Tans talked about the civic responsibility of scientists in his remarks on receiving the 2010 Roger Revelle Medal at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in December 2010.

As reported in the January 11 issue of Eos,Transactions, American Geophysical Union (by subscription), the weekly newspaper of the Earth and space sciences:

The Roger Revelle medal awarded to Dr. Tans is for “out­standing contributions in atmospheric sciences, atmosphere-ocean coupling, atmosphere-land coupling, biogeochemical cycles, climate, or related aspects of the Earth system.”

The award Citation begins: 

Pieter Tans has dedicated his scientific career to the study of the carbon cycle. He has been the leader in global monitoring of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since joining the National Oceanic and Atmo­spheric Administration (NOAA) in the mid-1980s to guide the growth of the NOAA net­work. Through his leadership, this obser­vation system is now unparalleled in the world, providing near–real time data of the highest quality and making these data freely available to all. …

Pieter’s accomplishments are many and varied. … His 1990 paper with Inez Fung and Taro Takahashi (Science, 247, 1431–1438) was a landmark work that showed that it was highly likely that the “missing sink” for CO2 lay in the Northern Hemisphere terrestrial biosphere. …

And concludes:

Finally, while the global carbon cycle community has benefited most from Piet­er’s leadership, scholarship, generosity, and persistence throughout his career, it is clear that society as a whole has ben­efited as well. Climate and environmen­tal change brought on by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a global problem that affects us all and will continue to affect generations to come. Pieter Tans was and continues to be the right person at the right time, guiding the world’s premier observing system, devising new ways to use and understand the data, enabling carbon cycle scientists around the world by providing free and timely access to the highest-quality data, and leading the development of carbon cycle science. He is most worthy of the Revelle Medal; it is a privilege to honor his lifetime of selfless commitment to science.

Dr. Tans, in his response said:

… Rev­elle has always been an example to me of how a scientist can provide a service to soci­ety by helping to create awareness of impor­tant emerging environmental problems and by creating knowledge that can be impor­tant when tackling such problems.

And concludes with this strong statement, addressed to his fellow climate scientists:

As climate scientists we now find our­selves in the situation that our subject is widely understood to be so relevant to soci­ety that many powerful interest groups feel threatened. Thus, we are facing a well-orga­nized and well-funded campaign attack­ing our science and our integrity, spread­ing confusion and disinformation. This is not surprising, as mitigating climate change goes to the core of our energy sup­ply system and the broader economic sys­tem. Human-made climate change demon­strates that we cannot continue business as usual. Should we ignore the deliberate lies and manipulations we face and stick purely with the science, hoping that sound judgment and compassion will eventu­ally prevail? We are scientists, but we are also citizens. It is our civic responsibility to redouble our efforts to convey to the public clearly the urgency and the essence of the climate change problem. The kind of world we leave to our children and grandchildren depends on it. It will have to be a world that has as one of its guiding principles a San­skrit prayer that was used as a dedication in the above mentioned 1972 book: “Oh Mother Earth, ocean-girdled and mountain-breasted, pardon me for trampling on you.”

Amen. Congratulations and thank you.

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