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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 03/11/2009

Dueling Climate Meetings Aim to Steer Policy

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Contrasting messages emerged this week from two diametrically opposed conferences on climate science. At the Heartland Institute's "International Conference on Climate Change," scientists and policy advocates asserted that the vast majority of climate scientists are woefully mistaken, and human activities are not the primary cause of recent climate change. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, climate scientists were sounding new alarm bells at a climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

At the Heartland Institute's meeting in New York, speakers cast doubt on the dominant view that man made climate change is likely to be damaging if action is not taken soon to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which most scientists (outside of the conference) agree is warming the planet's climate.

Keep reading for more on these diametrically opposite meetings...

Interestingly, the conference was not exclusively aimed at influencing the broader scientific community, which has widely accepted the theory of man made climate change, but rather was directed at policymakers in Washington and around the world, whom conference organizers (who have been financially backed by the oil industry) fear will enact emissions reduction policies that would raise energy prices and have other harmful economic impacts.

According to session summaries, presenters discussed the "potential policy disasters flowing from global warming alarmists" and declared that resisting the mainstream scientific finding that climate change is a real and potentially significant threat, is really a fight against "energy rationing."

Meanwhile, a very different scientific conference has been underway in Copenhagen, Denmark, which will play host to the next round of United Nations climate talks in December. The conference by the University of Copenhagen, entitled: "Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions," is providing an update to some of the findings of the 2007 U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to incorporate more recent scientific studies.

The main message from the Copenhagen meeting that has been filtering through the press is that some climate scientists think the effects of climate change are more severe than the IPCC anticipated, and therefore the need to reduce emissions is even more urgent. For example, a BBC News story yesterday contained the alarming news that new research indicates sea levels may rise much more than the IPCC forecasted, possibly by as much as one meter by the end of the century. This would have devastating consequences for highly populated low-lying areas around the world.

Like the Heartland conference, the gathering in Copenhagen has been organized in large part to communicate a particular scientific message to policymakers. According to the conference web site, the main goal is to "provide a synthesis of existing and emerging scientific knowledge necessary in order to make intelligent societal decisions concerning application of mitigation and adaptation strategies in response to climate change." Output of the Copenhagen meetings will consist of a summary of the research that has emerged in the two years since the last IPCC report, which will be provided to participants at the climate talks in December.

The Heartland Institute and Copenhagen climate conferences help show that scientists can be policy advocates too, even if they don't always specify precisely what policies they are advocating for. For example, the Associated Press quoted IPCC Chairman Rachendra Pachauri as telling Copenhagen participants that, essentially, scientists have to prod politicians into acting on the basis of scientific evidence.

"I am afraid that it is something that involves value judgment on the part of policy makers, and I am afraid that they shied away from it," he told the conference. "It is time to take action."

Do you think scientists need to be more active in policy advocacy?

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 03/11/2009

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