By Seth Shulman, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
7 November 2013
(LiveScience) – Al Dutcher, Nebraska's state climatologist, is an expert on climate change and a professor at the University of Nebraska. He's also a self-described conservative who is outraged that the state legislature and Nebraska's Republican governor are letting politics interfere with questions of science.
"After 25 years in my field, I've gotten to a point where I'm not afraid of the politics on this anymore," said Dutcher. "I say enough's enough. Let's stick to the science and let the political chips fall where they may."
Dutcher and his fellow climate scientists in Nebraska are standing up for science after the state legislature passed a misguided bill commissioning a state climate-change impact study that precludes scientists from addressing human activity's role in global warming. The scientists say the terms outlined in the bill would compromise the value of a study, and that no credible scientist would agree to them.
Don Wilhite, former director of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, explained the issue simply: "To be of any use, a climate impact report has to look at the whole picture," he said. "The issue is one of science, not politics. In Nebraska, just as everywhere, we need the best information we can get about the changes we face."
The bill's original sponsor, State Sen. Ken Haar, a Democrat, proposed the legislation to help Nebraska citizens to prepare for the regional impacts of climate change caused by humans' emissions of heat trapping gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
During floor debate in the legislature, however, Republican State Sen. Beau McCoy, a candidate for governor, amended the bill to direct scientists to focus only on so-called "cyclical" climate change — a term that has no legitimate scientific meaning. During the debate, McCoy reportedly said that the only climate study he would support was one that looked at "normal, cyclical change," adding: "I don't subscribe to global warming."
Haar told reporters after the amended bill's passage that any analysis that rejected science and excluded the role of human activity would make the state "look stupid." "The way it currently stands," Dutcher quipped, "the legislation is basically meaningless unless they are looking for a report that explains the existence of the seasons."
The legislation in question directs a committee in the governor's office to commission the climate study. Gov. Don Heineman, who has expressed skepticism about climate change, is unwilling to act on behalf of his state climatologist and the other climate scientists speaking out about the bill. Asked whether he would support them by calling for a more complete study, the governor, through a spokesperson, said only: "This decision was made by the legislature."
The current situation is particularly unfortunate, Dutcher said, because the Nebraskans need information about their changing climate, especially the prospect of increased drought in the state. Rising summer temperatures are reducing soil moisture, he pointed out, leading to increased irrigation demands that threaten to strain water resources.
"Here in Nebraska, we're very focused on issues of farming, " Dutcher explained. "And there's no question that humans are altering the climate. All our farmers recognize the changes — they're planting longer seasons and more varieties, they're planting earlier, there's changing in the mean freeze date and an extended growing season. These are blatant realities.
"The way I see it," Dutcher continued, "scientists like me who are employed by state universities have a job to do to give taxpayers the best information we can as a return on their investment in us. Good scientists know that this is not a political issue and we cannot be hamstrung by politics on either side of this issue. Regardless of your political views, we still have to figure out what we need to do to adequately prepare. That's why we need the best information science can provide." [more]