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Scientists spent a day talking to Congressional staffers in late February about the impacts of climate change on the United States. Among these were National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientists, Mary Hayden and Rick Katz. Hayden and Katz, teamed with scientists from other organizations, had the opportunity to meet with legislators from a variety of states. Each team focused on the various national legislators’ state- and district-relevant climate issues. Non-partisan in nature, the discussions introduced leading scientists working on climate issues to national decision makers, with the idea of offering the latter a resource to turn to when answering climate-related questions. In turn, the scientists gained insights on the nation’s policy process as well as a better sense of decision makers’ information needs.
A senior scientist and statistician in NCAR’s Institute for Mathematics Applied to Geosciences, Katz chairs the American Statistical Association’s (ASA) Advisory Committee on Climate Change Policy; the ASA funded his visit. Katz joined two other researchers from Boulder, Kevin Petty, head of Vaisala Group’s technology research, and Tom Kampe, assistant director for remote sensing at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The three spoke to Colorado’s Congressional delegations, and to Utah and Oklahoma’s Congressional staffers. In addition, Katz and other ASA members had an opportunity to meet with staff on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
“Without exception, every group of Congressional staffers and legislators I met with responded to a graphic I had showing billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that have affected the United States,” Katz says. “The image proved a conversation starter at every meeting, eliciting a variety of questions.
Hayden, a behavioral scientist in NCAR’s Research Applications Laboratory, whose expertise lies in identifying linkages between weather, climate, human health and insect-borne disease, teamed with researchers from the University of Florida, Kenneth Boote and Ted Schuur, to talk to Florida legislators about how changing climate is affecting state ecology, agriculture, and human health. The trio framed their presentation of climate-related information as questions around environmental changes that Florida policy makers and their constituents are seeing more regularly, like shorter winters and extended seasonal warmth. Discussion occurred around the societal impact of these changes, explains Hayden.
“I talked about the fact that these new, mosquito-friendly environmental conditions are resulting in a greater number of generations of mosquitoes being born, potentially increasing the incidence of mosquito-borne disease,” Hayden says. “The politicians and staffers we spoke to responded positively to our visit, they seemed receptive and interested in what we had to say, asking incisive questions on the information we presented.”
Organized by the Climate Science Working Group, a consortium of 14 scientific organizations, including the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), Climate Science Day is one of several annual visits by scientists to Congress coordinated by the Working Group. During these visits, scientists attend a half-day communications workshop before spending the next full day on Capitol Hill briefing House and Senate representatives and staff on regionally relevant climate topics. In addition to this Climate Science Day visit, the Working Group will host two future science-discussion events with Congress, each with a different focus. The next event in March focuses on science, engineering and technology, while a September visit will have a geosciences theme.