Sherwood Rowland Senate testimony on IPCC, science censorship, and the need for climate action

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Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland (1927-2012) testifying at a hearing on "Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity," held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, February 7, 2007.

Text of Dr. Rowland's testimony below.

Video editing by Katherine O'Konski.

Earlier post:  Sherry Rowland and the ozone denialists

Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity.  Archived webcast of the hearing, written testimony of panel of witnesses, and statements by Senators. The hearing was delayed and begins about 20 minutes into the video.

Dr. Rowland's written testimony here.

From Testimony by Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland of the Departments of Chemistry and Earth System Science of University of California Irvine, Irvine, California before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on “Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity”,  February 7,  2007:

On the IPCC:

Beginning in 1988, the global scientific understanding of these areas began to be organized internationally by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.  The initial portion of the Fourth IPCC report, on the fundamental science of the planetary energy balances and how they affect the climate, was reported in Paris last week.  It was--and is--a very stark presentation of  how the growing concentrations of the greenhouse gases and other ongoing atmospheric changes are already significantly affecting large portions of the Earth—for example, melting of ice in the polar North, and prolonged severe drought in southeastern Australia.  The outlook for the coming decades is for much further change, including rising sea level, hurricane intensity, etc.

This IPCC report represents an outstanding effort on the part of the international scientific community, and has the support of almost all of its members.  Complete unanimity is never expected, nor is there any mechanism for establishing the competence and credibility of those claiming to speak as scientists, other than the seldom performed examination of  his or her record of past successes and failures.  The closer we come to widespread public interest from the general public, the harder it becomes to evaluate the merits of the scientific case in the mix of other opinion.  The IPCC report represents the best effort of the scientific community to evaluate the problems of climate change, and it should be listened to.

On political interference with federal climate science communication:

Those of us who are based in universities are accustomed to presenting directly our findings and our opinions about the context of our results.  In most of my experience, our colleagues in national laboratories have had almost as much freedom in their presentations.  Presentation of one’s work as one sees it is the bedrock of the scientific enterprise.  However, in the last several years, my scientific conversations have run into far too many instances in which the reports of the significance  of the work have been subsequently changed by others, often by persons with less, or even no, expertise in the subject at hand.  Some of these conflicts have been gathered together, with verified details, by the Union of Concerned Scientists and by the Government Accountability Project, and are presented here today.  The working out of the best approaches to mitigation or adaptation to future climatic change is critically dependent upon possession of the most accurate and pertinent knowledge.

On a call to action 25 years ago, still unheeded by Congress:

I will conclude by quoting the remarks of  the late Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island at the closing of a hearing on the atmosphere which  had just been held with the Senate Sub-Committee on the Environment, which he chaired.

“If we were masters of the world, we would do something about carbon dioxide.  But we are not.  We can’t tell the Soviets what to do, or the Chinese.  But it seems to me that is not an excuse for no action at all on the part of the United States.  That is why I find fault with the view that if we take action, the Europeans  may not.  But that is not a call to inaction to me.  We ought to do what we can and set an example.”

These were his comments in June of 1986, and unfortunately they are just as applicable now as they were 21 years ago.

My testimony at that hearing is here (written testimony) and here (written testimony and video of opening presentation).

Other witnesses included:

Dr. Bill  Brennan
Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, National Oceanic and Amospheric Administration; Acting Chairman, Climate Change Science Program

Dr. Richard  Anthes
President, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Mr.  Thomas R.   Knutson
Research Meteorologist, Climate Dynamics and Prediction Group,
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Dr. James R. Mahoney                                                             
Environmental Consultant  (From 2002-2006 Dr. Mahoney was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Chairman of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program)

Two reports from 2007 on political interference with federal climate scientists:

Atmosphere of Pressure: Political Interference in Federal Climate Science. A Report of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project, February 2007.

Redacting the Science of Climate Change: An Investigative and Synthesis Report. By Tarek Maassarani, Government Accountability Project, March 2007.

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