Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill

February 28, 2013 | Mark Hobson

Margaret Mooney, Director of CIMSS Education and Outreach, climbed Capitol Hill on 26-27 February 2013 to participate in Climate Science Day in Washington, D.C.

An effort of the non-partisan Climate Science Working Group (CSWG), the intensive two-day event involved 50 scientists recruited from a dozen different professional societies and research organizations to meet with members of Congress and their staffs.

“Our goal,” Mooney explains, “was to talk to representatives and their aides and let them know the current state of climate science and present ourselves as resources they could call when issues connected with climate change arise. We did not give policy recommendations, ask for funding or recommend any specific course of action.”

The event was especially timely given the recently released 14 February 2013 U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) report that outlines climate change as a new “risk”:

Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks.

Climate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters. The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks.”

margaret and betsy

Margaret Mooney and Dr. Betsy Weatherhead from CIRES.

After an organizational meeting on the afternoon of 26 February, Mooney was paired with Dr. Betsy Weatherhead from the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences (CIRES) for a full day of meetings on Capitol Hill on the 27th:

9:15 – 9:45 a.m. Chris King (Staff Director for Minority/Dems); House Science Committee, Subcommittee on Environment.

10:00 – 10:30 a.m. David Wegner (Professional Staff for Minority/Dems); House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

11:00 – 11:30 a.m. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Joel Smoot (Science Legislative Correspondent)

1:00 – 1:30 p.m. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL-16); Patrick Ptak (Legislative Correspondent)

1:45 – 2:15 p.m. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN-4th); Abby Waitrous, Legislative Fellow

2:30 – 3:00 p.m. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI-2); Sydney Terry, (Legislative Assistant)

3:15 – 3:45 p.m.; Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT-ALL); Patrick Buell (Legislative Assistant).

4:00 – 4:30 p.m.; Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL); Sarah Walter (Science Legislative Assistant).

The 2013 Climate Science Day event harkens back to 1988 when James Hansen became the first climate scientist to testify in front of the entire US Congress. This year 50 scientists from around the country took a more targeted approach by meeting one-on-one with political aides to highlight research, impacts and responses to climate change in or near specific congressional districts.

For example, when speaking to representatives from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota, Mooney started with the climate research legacy of Verner Suomi (UW-Madison’s founder of SSEC and CIMSS) and pointed to recent findings from the Wisconsin Initiative for Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) and Midwest examples from the National Climate Assessment.

“Not surprisingly,” Mooney says, “Hurricane Sandy came up in some conversations, inviting mention of the connections between satellite data and improvements in hurricane forecasting.”

As predicted by science, the Earth’s changing climate and extremes of weather are disrupting ecosystems, infrastructure, and society. The organizers and participants of Climate Science Day hope their efforts will connect policy and decision makers responding to climate disruption with sound science moving forward.