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Conservative scientists take on climate change deniers

Scientists include BYU professor Barry Bickmore

By Neela Banerjee

Tribune Washington Bureau

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 5 2011 8:41 a.m. MST

A separate October 2009 Pew survey showed a marked decline from 18 months earlier in the number of people who accept global warming, with only one-third of Republican respondents saying they saw solid evidence of climate change, the lowest percentage among any partisan group.

"Conservatives tend to gravitate to skepticism because conservatives are inherently suspicious of an expanding government taking more and more of their money and liberty," wrote James M. Taylor, senior fellow in environment policy at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank in Chicago.

"On the other hand, liberals tend to gravitate to alarmism because they have little fear of an expansive government and tend to welcome government replacing private individuals or corporations as key drivers of the global economy," he said.

Emanuel dislikes applying the word "skeptic" to those who deny climate change. He says all scientists are skeptical; that's the nature of the field. His own innate skepticism meant that it took him longer than his colleagues to be persuaded of climate change, Emanuel says.

He remembers thinking it ridiculous when a noted climatologist told Congress in 1988 that he was all but certain that the climate was changing. Yet, as analyses of climate data advanced through the 1990s and Emanuel found a relationship between hurricanes and climate change in his own work, he came to see a link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Climate change deniers, including many in Congress, contend that because the science is not "settled," the government should not act to curtail greenhouse gases.

"Scientists are being asked to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there is an imminent danger before we as a society do anything," Emanuel said. "The parallel to that is saying, 'You won't buy property insurance unless I can prove to you that your house will catch on fire right now.' "

Although more scientists are pushing back against climate change denial, Emanuel is not convinced it can help, given the corporate interests and the weight of the GOP arrayed against them. All of this is making him reconsider his political loyalties: For the first time in his life, he voted for a Democrat, Barack Obama, in 2008.

"I am a rare example of a Republican scientist, but I am seriously thinking about changing affiliation owing to the Republicans' increasingly anti-science stance," he wrote in an e-mail. "The best way to elevate the number of Republican scientists is to get Republican politicians to stop beating up on science and scientists."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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