Hans Kaper participates in Climate Science Day
Last Tuesday and Wednesday I participated in "Climate Science Day," an advocacy project organized by the AAAS and 12 professional organizations "to provide a non-partisan opportunity for scientists of many disciplines to build relationships and provide Members of Congress access to the best possible climate science information." This is an annual event, which was held for the fifth time this year. The project included a workshop on February 9 and visits to offices of Senators and House Members on February 10.
Most participating organizations had sent one or two representatives; I was invited to represent MCRN. We worked in teams of three, two scientists accompanied by a staff member from AAAS. Each team visited the offices of six or seven senators or representatives of their states on Capitol Hill. As a resident of the District of Columbia, I don't have a representative in the Congress, so I was assigned to the team for Illinois and Wisconsin. My partner was Tracey Holloway, Professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who leads an air quality research program for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE). We visited the offices of Senators Durbin (D-IL), Baldwin (D-WI), Kirk (R-IL), and Johnson (R-WI), and the offices of Representatives Roskam (R-IL), Ryan (R-WI), and Pocan (D-WI). We met with Senator Johnson in person and with staff in the other offices.
These visits follow a certain ritual. First, there is a dress code (no jeans or T-shirts!). Each visit is scheduled for 30 minutes; they rarely last longer, often less, so you have to make your case quickly and convincingly. Staff members are mostly young, they are incredibly busy and often very bright. Few of them have a scientific background, but in one case we met with an experimental particle physics PhD. The format of the meetings varies, but you invariably start with introductions (business cards are the coin of the realm) and a "thank you" to staff and the Member of Congress for past actions. You briefly try to connect by discussing a shared background, and then you come up with your "ask"---that is, explain why you are there. In our case, the "ask" was simple: "We want to be a resource for your office. Please contact us as you develop solutions to issues facing your local community, as issues related to climate science arise during policy discussions, or if you have any questions related to climate science." For the remainder of the visit you can expand on your message.
The discussions were mostly constructive, although in some cases it was difficult to find common ground. Politicians are concerned about jobs for their constituents. They generally have positive feelings about science, they will tell you that they appreciate hearing from scientists, but climate and climate change are rarely high-priority topics. We found that food security, energy, and water have more direct appeal, and it is not hard to make the connection with climate. Overall, an interesting experience and maybe, maybe we planted some seeds for meaningful future communication.
Thank you, Hans!
For more information, see Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill.