An open letter about climate change to soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner

Dear Representative Boehner,

Congratulations on your party’s recent election victories. Your speech at the end of the night was particularly touching, and your personal story is inspirational. The election results do seem to signify that many Americans are not happy with how the Democratic party has been running Washington, and some change will likely be good for the country. As a scientist, however, I am deeply troubled by some of what I’m hearing about the new Republican House majority, particularly about global climate change policy.

According to an article published in the Guardian, every single 2010 Republican candidate for the United States Senate was a global warming skeptic (except for Mike Castle, who was defeated in his primary). Joe Miller of Alaska even called his opponent Lisa Murkowski’s support of global warming reduction policies “exhibit A for why she needs to go”. The House and the Senate are different bodies, but the trend is troubling.

Global climate change is happening. The evidence is all around us. Despite a cold snap in much of the Southeast last winter, during which many conservative pundits claimed that climate change is obviously a fraud, 2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record. 2009 was one of the warmest years of all time, and the last decade was the warmest ever recorded.Thousands of scientific papers have been published about this topic, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is composed of hundreds of the world’s leading scientific experts on climatology from around the world, settled any small lingering doubt about the validity of climate change with their comprehensive reports. Yes, some scientists still debate a few of the specific consequences of climate change, but the overwhelming majority of us agree that climate change is happening.

In addition to making President Obama’s climate change reduction policy impossible to pass, it seems that certain House Republicans are even planning to hold hearings into the “scientific fraud” of global warming. I would ordinarily dismiss such a rumor out of hand, but there is precedent for it- Virginia’s attorney general has already wasted taxpayer dollars investigating climate science at UVA.

A reasonable argument can be made that President Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade plan is not the best way to combat global climate change. However, to claim that climate change isn’t happening at all is to reject an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence in favor of partisan ideology.

Many aspects of President Obama’s plan should appeal to Republicans. It calls for increased investment in alternative energy, which has the potential to be an incredibly valuable domestic industry. In addition to providing many thousands of high-paying private-sector jobs here in the United States, a domestic, renewable source of energy would cut off the primary source of funding for Islamic extremist groups: oil money. Along the way, it also helps combat climate change.

A lot of analysts are comparing the Republican party’s 2010 election victory to 1994, the midterm election of President Clinton’s first term. At that time, under the leadership of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Republicans recaptured the House of Representatives. I feel that it is important to note that Mr. Gingrich is a firm supporter of environmental protections. He wrote a book entitled “A Contract with the Earth” (a reference to his 1994 “Contract with America”), and even appeared in a commercial with soon-to-be-ex Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging Americans to put aside political differences to find a solution to global warming.  Despite his acceptance of climate change and his support of conservation policies, Gingrich remains a hero among many conservative voters and is now considered to be on the short-list for serious 2012 Republican Presidential contenders.

I urge you to ignore partisan bickering and work with the President and the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass climate change policy that we can all live with. I urge you to help the economy and the environment by supporting alternative energy. I urge you not to waste taxpayer resources by calling science and scientists ‘frauds’.

I wish you the best of luck in your new role as the third most powerful person in the United States government. I hope that you can help get the country back on track. I just hope you can do it without rejecting science.


David Shiffman, Concerned American Scientist


  1. Sam · November 10, 2010

    Well said, sir.

  2. John Carroll · November 10, 2010


  3. Southern Fried Scientist · November 10, 2010

    Finding solutions to climate change should have been the single most unifying bipartisan issue since the second World War. Instead Republican ideologues chose to use it to further entrench a hatred of science that continues to define the modern conservative movement.

    A politician who denies climate change is weak on defense, weak on the economy, weak on the environment, and completely absent any specter of morality or responsibility.

    • ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

      I guess this post does not count as bile, huh?

    • Southern Fried Scientist · November 11, 2010

      Nope. We had a chance for seeking out bipartisan solutions and the Republican’s left the table.

  4. Bob Calder · November 10, 2010

    I wish the “Manufacturing Scientific Ignorance” presentation at AAAS in San Francisco had been an evening plenary so everybody could see the evidence of corporate selfishness and blatant manipulation of unsophisticated persons.

    How short are the memories of senators that witnessed Bush’s scientific advisor shrivel like a vampire at sunrise when Gore was finally allowed to tear into him.

  5. Sam · November 10, 2010

    What I’ve never understood is the absolute white-hot hatred a lot of conservatives display towards cap and trade. It’s a classically conservative solution to a problem that shouldn’t even be up for debate. Instead, the liberals are proposing a conservative solution to this problem while the conservatives are grumbling about the classically liberal solution the EPA has instated and fiercely decried the liberal-proposed classically conservative solution.

    It’s enough to make the brain hurt.

  6. ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

    You have fallen into the same trap that every other global warming advocate has done, and that is by first telling people who disagree that they are wrong and that they can basically go to hell (dont people know this concept from dating and marriage?). Literally, 10 million global warming people have made this mistake, and to be honest, its ridiculous and the argument sucks from a logical and scientific perspective. Think of something new to write or don’t write at all is opinion when it comes to the internet.
    I will not go through the litany of concerns that any fair-minded scientist should have about global warming and the tremendous amounts of money and power swirling around it since you likely are familiar with all of them. I will, however, say that until the global warming crowd agrees to be civil, wait for honest and fair data to come in and stop berating those who disagree, you will continually lose. So if you truly care about this issue, I suggest a different approach. Otherwise, I view this as a ridiculous attempt to curry favor with your colleagues.
    And for those of you reading this who do not know me and think I am some random idiot who doesnt know science, I am a practicing PhD of organic chemistry at Harvard university.

    • Kevin Z · November 12, 2010

      Obtaining a PhD is not a measure of intelligence. Many random idiots hold titles of esteem.

      Until climate change contrarians stop lying about and misrepresenting the science and peer-reviewed literature, and agree to be honest and accept the decades of data collected by scientists and stop their socioeconomically and environmentally harmful political motivations, you will continue to be berated.

      It goes beyond being merely wrong and into the realm of being severely dangerous to society. Like a rancid infection, when a certain subset of the society is promoting activities and ideas that harm the entire betterment of society as a whole, the infection needs to be treated.

      *For the record: This comment was made with a civil tone*

  7. Dr. M · November 11, 2010

    Nicely done and well written.

  8. ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

    Ok, I cant believe I am getting sucked in to this thread, but yellowoctopus: If you think cap and trade was a conservative idea then you need to look up with conservative and liberal mean in American politics. Seriously. Do you think that because it involved a tradable market for CO2 that is conservative? Does anything with a market automatically make something conservative?

    • Sam · November 12, 2010

      ChemistryDave, if the majority of conservatives considered global climate change to be real, that’s how they’d probably solve it. By creating a market for CO2 permits. So yes, I’m pretty sure I’m justified in calling it a conservative solution.

      If you have any solutions to the global climate change problem that you’d consider true conservative solutions, I’m all ears. This is, of course, assuming that global climate change is a problem unanimously agreed upon.

      Frankly, saying that being a climate change skeptic is definitively conservative and all others aren’t true conservatives, well, that’s pretty silly.

    • WhySharksMatter · November 12, 2010

      Sam, I’m afraid that Dave is right (on this point at least)- conservatives would absolutely not favor a government-run market for carbon permits. Just because something has the word market in it doesn’t mean that it appeals to conservatives.

    • Sam · November 13, 2010

      Okay, so then how would conservatives solve it, assuming they acknowledge that it’s happening?

      And I don’t think it’s conservative just because it involves creating a market. I think that it SHOULD be favored by reasonable conservatives because it saves businesses a hell of a lot of money compared to command and control or even just a permit system. Conservatives tend, more than liberals, to be budget hawks. Hence my thinking it’d be a conservative solution.

  9. Dr. M · November 11, 2010

    Did we read the same post? I actually really like this letter because despite your claim it isn’t a novel approach it actually does what you accuse of it failing at.Nothing about this letter is inflammatory. It is sincere and balanced. I am not quite sure where you feel that he was telling people to “basically go to hell”. In fact, your comment comment is more uncivil than the original post.

    As far as waiting for data, we have more than enough at hand to fully support anthropogenically induced climate change. As a fair minded scientist, I do have litany of concerns. But not about the wealth of data and analyses that continue to support that our climate is changing as a direct consequence of humans. I am concerned of the environmental changes that have already occurred and will continue to occur because anthropogenically induced climate change.

    • ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

      Well, excluding the use of the term ‘denier’, the third paragraph starts out as “Global climate change is happening”. So, what is the point of the rest of the letter? If the very pivot of the discussion is settled, this is all a waste of time, right?
      How about putting ‘scientific fraud’ in quotes. I know many of you are grad students (as I once was). Do you all hide data from your advisors? Do you shape data to provide a conclusion that you would prefer to observe? Would not all of you be fired on the spot for conducting your graduate research like some of these more visible climatologists? I certainly would have been expelled from my phd program had I behaved like that. Relating to that, the phrase ‘wasting taxpayer dollars’ on investigating UVA climate science. Informing the reader that if you disagree with the premise, you are tilting in favor of political ideology. If you dont think thats tilted, then I cannot help you.

    • Kevin Z · November 12, 2010

      Would not all of you be fired on the spot for conducting your graduate research like some of these more visible climatologists?

      You must mean scientists like John Christy, Roy Spencer, Willie Soon, Sally Beliunes, Fred Singer, Sherwood Idso and Pat Michaels? These scientists are documented frauds on the contrarian spectrum. So don’t play the victim card.

  10. Mike · November 11, 2010

    When you use the expression “global warming denier” to describe people who don’t believe that climate change is primarily a result of human activity you poison the debate from the get go. That expression came from the term holocaust denier, it was an effort to compare the kookery of denying a historical event of extreme magnitude with a legitimate disagreement about a scientific question. I think many people within the environmental community and those who are convinced that global warming is a man made phenomenon have absorbed the term into their everyday vocabulary without realizing how insulting it is.

    If you want to change minds and have a productive dialogue lose that term, it is an ugly expression that reveals the contempt some on the climate change side have for those who disagree with them.

    As far as the science is concerned . . . Judith Curry, the head of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences school at Georgia Tech is a “global warming denier”. She is not alone in this regard, many geologists, climatologists, meteorologists, cosmologists, chemists, and astronomers all have serious scientific questions about anthropogenic global warming theory. They are ignored. That is not science, that is not the scientific process.

    I’m sorry but anyone who claims the science on this issue is even remotely settled isn’t being serious.

    • WhySharksMatter · November 11, 2010

      “When you use the expression “global warming denier” to describe people who don’t believe that climate change is primarily a result of human activity you poison the debate from the get go. That expression came from the term holocaust denier”

      I was not aware of this and apologize for any offense. Is “skeptic” preferable to “denier”?

    • Kevin Z · November 12, 2010

      I prefer contrarians, because all scientists are skeptics by definition. That is how science works. Contrarians argue against the data.

    • Southern Fried Scientist · November 11, 2010

      I’ll agree with you on that, the “denier” label is often use to disparage certain groups. Some deserved, some not so much.

      Unfortunately, a key component of many “denier” movements is the classic “List of X people who support Y ideology”. In any field you’ll find dissenters and skeptics, but when the overwhelming consensus is X, why do you then choose to believe only the much shorter list that disagrees with X. In other words, what is it about Dr. Curry that makes you trust her over say Dr. Pat Halpin?

      I would argue that these scientist you claim are being ignored are in fact not being ignored. The dissenting view is the reason why so many people have committed so much time and resources to proving that anthropogenic climate change is happening.

    • WhySharksMatter · November 12, 2010

      I changed the word “denier” to “skeptic”, and changed the word “deny” to “reject”.

  11. Alan Dove · November 11, 2010

    ChemistryDave: “I will not go through the litany of concerns that any fair-minded scientist should have about global warming…”

    Gee, how kind of you to avoid laying out any rational arguments. And “wait for honest and fair data to come in”? Seriously? Thousands of climatologists have committed decades of their lives to studying this problem, producing whole libraries of publications and terabytes of data. It overwhelmingly points toward the one conclusion none of them wanted: that the motive power for the whole global economy is in fact destroying the planet.

    But that wasn’t covered in your organic chemistry training, was it?

  12. Mike · November 11, 2010

    “Seriously? Thousands of climatologists have committed decades of their lives to studying this problem, producing whole libraries of publications and terabytes of data. It overwhelmingly points toward the one conclusion none of them wanted: that the motive power for the whole global economy is in fact destroying the planet.”

    I guess Richard Lindzen, Ian Clark and Judith Curry aren’t aware of this . . .

    • ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

      Dont forget the latest, Harold Lewis.

  13. ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

    Let me educate you Alan. I know Shiffman and therefore I know he is aware of the many controversies and scientific imprudence surrounding the global warming issue. So, I am not going to sit and type a gazillion things when I can write one sentence.
    Second, my training was exquisite, and as you may or may not know, global warming is a chemical problem, which makes me uniquely qualified to discuss it. For example, you might realize that CO2 is a carbon-based molecule, and hence right in my area of expertise. Further, due to my first-rate education, I am well versed in the energetic processes involved when molecules and radiation interact, again making me eminently qualified to discuss global warming. Third, being in high academics and the author of multiple peer-reviewed papers, I can pass judgment on the scientific processes of grant writing, public outreach and the peer review process in general.
    As I referenced above, you have gone right to the insults and bullying, which tells me exactly what kind of person you are. I have news for you. In the long run, science always wins. People that name call and bully have always been bested by the truth, and it will happen in this case as well.

    • Southern Fried Scientist · November 11, 2010

      You realize, for someone feigning offense and crying for civility, you’ve got the most ass-cocked dickish comments on the thread. Watch your tone, kid.

    • Alan Dove · November 11, 2010

      Got a few self-esteem issues, have we?

      Bullshit also contains carbon, you know.

  14. ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

    You can see where the true intent is with this statement:

    “that the [mode of] power for the whole global economy is in fact destroying the planet”

    It always comes back to the same thing. Bringing down corporations and the rich and ‘leveling the playing field’. These people are more predictable than the sun rising in the east.

    • WhySharksMatter · November 12, 2010

      Dave, no one here is talking about socialist revolutions except for you.

      We’re not talking about “leveling the playing field”. In fact, the green energy revolution will likely create a whole bunch of new super-rich capitalists.

  15. ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

    Did not say I was offended, I expect to be name called by enviros. And Im not crying for civility, mainly because as long as the global warming people act like idiots, I know they will get nowhere. I was merely advising on how to succeed in this discussion.

    And for the record, I am an ass-cocked dick and not big on “watching my tone, kid”. You must think you sound like Indiana Jones saying that?

    • Southern Fried Scientist · November 11, 2010

      And yet, you’re somehow the only person who’s brought nothing but bile to the table. You must love playing the poor little victim card because all those big mean enviros are making fun of you. You should consider at minimum taking a page from Mike’s book, and not sounding like a whinger. If you keep getting insulted by enviros, maybe part of the problem is you.

    • ChemistryDave · November 11, 2010

      Indiana – What is a whinger? And yet again, I dont care if you call me anything. Ive been called everything in the book. I am not poor nor little nor a victim. If you drew that from my post, then you misinterpreted it. Shiffman requested that I comment on this post, and I was simply stating that as long as the environmental movement uses name-calling and belittling as its primary method of persuasion, they will continue to lose. And as I previously stated, I am fine with that outcome.

    • Southern Fried Scientist · November 11, 2010

      Clearly you hadn’t been called a whinger.

    • WhySharksMatter · November 11, 2010

      “for the record, I am an ass-cocked dick”

      It’s true, but at least he’s self aware about it.

  16. Bob Calder · November 11, 2010

    “I guess Richard Lindzen, Ian Clark and Judith Curry aren’t aware of this . . .”

    Dear Mike,

    When you see a body of thousands of scientists that includes hundreds of climatologists saying it and a handful of contrarians, what you see is not what you could call a “debate” in any meaningful way. Linus Pauling is a good example of a very smart guy that let his beliefs get in the way of his science.

    It has been settled to all intents and purposes for quite a few years.

  17. Sam · November 11, 2010

    I think the problem with the climate debate is that it’s now become so politicized that an unbiased discussion is almost impossible these days. There is a lack of tolerance for different views on the subject coming from people on both sides of the debate. It’s gotten to the point where one side simply doesn’t trust the other and is reluctant to listen to opposing views on the subject.

    For the record, I do believe that the earth’s climate changes all the time and always has, but I’m not convinced at this point that the issues Shiffman points out in his letter are due to human activity, but rather are just the earth’s natural cycle. I’ve always been skeptical of the claim of man made global warming, but the “Climategate” scandal pushed me even further over on the skeptic side and I’m not the only one. Polling on the issue has shown that less people now believe in man made global warming, even in Europe, where it was practically gospel.

    • Southern Fried Scientist · November 11, 2010

      So I’ve seen tons of political grandstanding about Climategate, but in the end, none of the actual reviews of the e-mail concluded any wrongdoing. The worst I’ve seen come out of it was that universities were slow to respond to information requests and that one graph was misleading when shown without a caption (the figure caption, however, explained the issue). None of the research was found to be fabricated and all relevant data was accessible to other researchers. To be fair, I haven’t been following the Climategate story carefully.

      What part of Climategate pushed you over the edge?

  18. Joe · November 12, 2010

    Here’s what chaps me about scientists and the global warming debate. How many of the people here feel like they know enough to read the primary literature and give an informed scientific opinion? Not many I bet. We’re just like everyone else, trusting the scientists who work in this very specialized and sophisticated subfield.

    We might have some special insights about how to judge what those scientists are saying, because we understand something about how science and scientists work. Still, do we really understand enough to recreate or test and of the most important papers in the field?

    This has become a ‘go to the mattresses issue’ mainly because it has become political.

    Are we also so short sighted that we can’t think of and significant examples of when the scientific community was wrong?

    My answer has been (and probably will continue to be) ‘That’s not really my field, and I don’t know enough to evaluate the data myself.’

    More of us, if we expect to be considered serious scientists, should consider that position before hooking our cart to an ox we don’t truly understand.

    • WhySharksMatter · November 12, 2010

      I would argue that
      A) more of us understand climate science than you claim


      B) Scientists don’t need to be climate experts to refute many of the claims coming from the right. Here are some choice examples:

      1- Senator Inhofe (R-OK) calls climate science “the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on mankind”.

      2- Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) claims that we dont’ need to worry about global warming because the Bible doesn’t mention it.

      3- Countless conservative pundits claimed that snow last winter proved that global warming was false.

      4- Virginia’s attorney general is investigating UVA scientists for “fraud”, and some Congressional Republicans want to do the same nationwide.

      Maybe I can’t reproduce a complex climate model by hand, but most scientists know enough about the issue to argue against these absurdities, and we SHOULD argue against them.

  19. YellowJacket · November 12, 2010

    Food for thought:

    The science is nowhere near settled, and insisting that it is in the face of studies such as this only makes your argument look weak.

  20. JeffM · November 12, 2010

    The author takes great liberties with fact to convert them to innuendo and propaganda.

    Point 1: Equating climate change with manmade climate change is intellectually dishonest. The climate has always changed without any help from mankind. Has he co-opted the meaning of “climate change” to derive greater alarm, given the fact that (to the ignorant masses) any natural change in the weather will thus be attributed as manmade harm to the planet? Or is this simply de rigueur when writing alarmist global warming articles?

    Point 2: After implying that climate change is manmade, he goes on to “prove” it by saying we’re on track for the warmest year ON RECORD. It sounds sensational, but actually, the record he refers to isn’t long enough to mean what its usage implies. Claiming that 2009 was one of the warmest years of all time is also a much generalized stretch of fact, and is really innuendo. Claiming that the last decade was the warmest ever recorded is no “proof” at all, but just disingenuous propaganda. Because a scientist says it, the implication (to the ignorant masses) is that it must be a fact. It’s actually an example of a scientist expressing his personal political viewpoint. Even if it was the warmest decade ever recorded, a decade of recorded climate change is not proof that mankind caused it. Temperatures, today, are lower than during the Medieval Warm Period. Government doesn’t award grants for scientists to determine why this was so.

    As a scientist, I would expect nothing less than for the author to urge Sen. Boehner to do what Pres. Obama has not done: REPLACE CARBON FUELS. Wind and solar cannot replace 24/7 carbon energy. Cap and Trade cannot replace carbon energy. Ethanol cannot replace carbon energy. Yet, these technologies are all we get from government. Why are the world’s honorable men and women of science not screaming for total elimination of carbon fuels is beyond me. If manmade global warming is really the threat to humanity that scientists and government claim it to be, where’s the crash R&D to find the 24/7 replacement energy? Nothing the government has done will replace carbon fuels. Everything the government has done or likely will do is to redistribute wealth from the pockets of consumers to the pockets of filthy rich people who sell windmills, solar panels, or Ethanol; and to the pockets of those who would make environmental movies, sell books, or would operate carbon trading exchanges.

    Sen. Boehner, if you are reading this article and you believe that the author is correct regarding manmade climate change, please understand that the solution to manmade global warming is total elimination of carbon fuels. The only goal that government must have is to find the American People a new energy source that will replace carbon fuels. Replacing carbon fuels will also make us energy independent, will help bankrupt our oil rich enemies in the world, and will help make all other areas of our environment cleaner.

    Sen. Boehner, if you do NOT believe that carbon fuels are a threat to humanity, stop funding subsidies to energy companies, whether they produce carbon fuels or windmills. It would do wonders for balancing the Federal budget, reducing the national debt, preventing electricity costs from skyrocketing, and avoiding further shift of American manufacturing and jobs to China.

  21. YellowJacket · November 13, 2010

    Good thoughts JeffM. I’ll respond to one of your points – we could provide tons and tons of cleaner and proven energy via nuclear plants, but that is also demagogued by the environmentalist movement.

    • WhySharksMatter · November 13, 2010

      I’m a big supporter of nuclear energy, and I have often criticized people who oppose it for bad reasons.

  22. AlexaBio102 · November 30, 2010

    It is astonishing that some Republicans refuse to recognize global warming. It makes no sense that millions of scientist would all come to the same “false” conclusion of its existence. Its just stupid if you ask me. It is very depressing, as a young American college student, to realize how many of our “leaders” are so stubborn. Why are we not as a nation trying to conserve our biggest resource – the planet? Wouldn’t that be our first priority before the dollars in our bank accounts? Hopefully my generation will act with more integrity and clean up this mess. We need to – we have no other choice.

  23. grassfed · November 30, 2010

    Do we not have empirical evidence on this? I agree that this has become too much of a political issue and will not be resolved in the House because truly what is? In my opinion it is an individual effort that requires us to change our way of life. Altough government action would be nice, change is not a new invention. This is a global issue, someone needs to tell Dubai what’s up.

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