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February 2000

AGI Statement on Global Climate Change

David Applegate

link to the AGI statement

Global climate change is an important scientific issue. It is also the subject of fierce political debate. The American Geological Institute (AGI) and its member societies are seeking ways to bridge the gap between the science and policy of climate change.

This past December, AGI sent copies of its position statement on global climate change (see box this page) to each member of Congress and to key executive branch officials. AGIís executive committee adopted the statement earlier in the year and then invited the presidents of AGIís member societies to add their endorsements.

AGIís goal was to develop a statement that represented a broad consensus across the geoscience community. The AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, itself comprised of member society representatives, prepared the initial draft, which then went through two rounds of review by the member societies before its adoption. The subsequent endorsement by 16 member society presidents with none opposed is a measure of success in achieving consensus.

AGIís statement focuses on the central role that the earth sciences play in understanding climate change. Such a statement may seem obvious to geoscientists; but policy-makers will not recognize the value of geoscience input unless we make the case to them.

Two of AGIís member societies also issued statements in 1999: the American Geophysical Union in February and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in October. Although the focus of each statement varies, all three were developed with a similar purpose: to serve as a tool for geoscientists to take a more active role in informing the debate over climate change. In other words, issuing a policy statement is the beginning of a process, not the end product.

To better understand how geoscientists can play an effective role, AGI joined forces with four other scientific societies to commission a study for assessing the opinions congressional staff members have about the appropriate role of scientists and scientific organizations in debates over global climate change policy. A national public relations firm conducted focus groups and individual interviews with Democratic and Republican staffers working on this issue.

Questions probed how knowledgeable members of Congress are about climate change, their preferred information channels, and their perceptions of the issueís importance. The study found that congressional staffers appreciate communication from scientists and that ďscientists have a role to play as credible, objective communicators and interpreters of data.Ē The studyís findings also indicated that staffers were particularly eager to hear from scientists who were constituents of their representative or senator.

Such findings suggest an opportunity for scientific societies to engage geoscientists at a grassroots level as communicators and information sources. Climate change will remain a key environmental issue in the second session of this Congress and may also be a campaign issue in the 2000 elections. The debate certainly will rage on whether or not scientists seek to inform itóthat is our challenge as a community and as citizen-scientists.

David Applegate
AGI Director of Government Affairs. E-mail:

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