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Posted at 10:55 AM ET, 04/03/2012

Republican meteorologist Paul Douglas: conservatives should embrace climate science

For various reasons, climate change science has become deeply politicized in the U.S. Democrats tend to believe climate change is real, and largely human-caused, while Republicans, if they agree it’s happening, favor natural causes as the explanation (source: George Mason and Yale study, 2011). A recent report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded: “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural system.”

Meteorologist Paul Douglas, CEO of Broadcast Weather and founder of several companies, in his essay “A Message from a Republican Meteorologist on Climate Change” pleas with members of his party to trust climate scientists when they say human-caused climate change is happening and having profound effects on our weather and the environment.

The entire essay is worth a read, but here are some key excerpts, and I offer some concluding thoughts at the end...

Setting the stage, Douglas’ opener...

I’m going to tell you something that my Republican friends are loath to admit out loud: climate change is real. I am a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative; a fan of small government, accountability, self-empowerment, and sound science. I am not a climate scientist. I’m a meteorologist, and the weather maps I’m staring at are making me uncomfortable.

Look out the window...

The climate is warming. The weather is morphing. It’s not your grandfather’s weather anymore. The trends are undeniable. If you don’t want to believe thousands of climate scientists – at least believe your own eyes: winters are warmer & shorter, summers more humid, more extreme weather events, with a 1-in-500 year flood every 2-3 years. For evidence of climate change don’t look at your back yard thermometer. That’s weather. Take another, longer look at your yard. Look at the new flowers, trees, birds, insects and pests showing up outside your kitchen window that weren’t there a generation ago.

On climate change and extreme weather...

You can’t point to any one weather extreme and say “that’s climate change”. But a warmer atmosphere loads the dice, increasing the potential for historic spikes in temperature and more frequent and bizarre weather extremes. You can’t prove that any one of Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs was sparked by (alleged) steroid use. But it did increase his “base state,” raising the overall odds of hitting a home run.

On meteorologists “in denial” and politicization of the debate...

Some TV meteorologists, professionals who are skilled at predicting short-term weather, are still in denial. Why? Some don’t like being upstaged by climate scientists; we’ve all been burned by weather models, and some (mistakenly) apply the same suspicion to climate models. Others haven’t taken the time to dig into the climate science. “It’s all political” one local TV weather-friend told me recently. No, it’s science. But we’ve turned it into a political football, a bizarre litmus test for conservatism.

On what/who to trust...

Trust your gut - and real experts. We should listen to peer-reviewed climate scientists, who are very competitive by nature. This is not about “insuring more fat government research grants.” I have yet to find a climate scientist in the “1 Percent”, driving a midlife-crisis-red Ferrari into the lab.

Solutions...

We can figure this out. Frankly, we won’t have a choice. But I’m a naïve optimist. We can reinvent America, leaving us more competitive in the 21st century, launching thousands of new, carbon-free energy companies - supplementing, and someday surpassing anything we can expeditiously suck out of the ground and burn, accelerating an already-warming planet.

My reaction

I thought Douglas’ essay was elegantly written and among the most compelling essays about climate change I’ve read.

There were some scientific statements I wish he provided more support (i.e. references, links) for (e.g. 500-year floods occurring every two-three years). Also, I wish he hadn’t referred to “violent tornado sneezes” as a “sympton” of climate change when the peer reviewed literature has not established a link.

One other small complaint: while the fire of his rhetoric, in part, is what makes the essay so effective, I probably wouldn’t have called out climate change “deniers”(as he does in his essay, and especially a follow-up blog).

As I’ve written before, I’ve found it’s more effective to show those you disagree with respect and engage with them rather than calling them out and calling them names. I think his efforts to bring fellow Republicans over to his side and elevate the tenor of the discourse might be better served through a more conciliatory approach.

Related: Classifying beliefs about climate change - Is convinced versus unconvinced the way to go?

These minor quibbles aside, Douglas’ essay is personal, passionate, and persuasive - a stellar science-based appeal.

Additional reading:

Republicans and Climate Change: An Audience Analysis of Predictors for Belief and Policy Preferences (academic paper)

A Republican Meteorologist Tries to Remove Liberal Label from Climate Concern (Dot Earth, Andy Revkin)

By  |  10:55 AM ET, 04/03/2012

Categories:  Latest, Climate Change

 
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