Gov Relations

Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill

March 10, 2014 | It was a chilly day on Capitol Hill, but that didn’t stop several dedicated climate researchers from participating in the fourth annual Climate Science Day in Washington, D.C., on January 28. Their nonpartisan visits provide an opportunity for scientists of many disciplines to build relationships and provide Members of Congress and their staffs with access to the best possible climate science information.

Gene Takle
Gene Takle, Director of the Iowa State University Climate Science Program, is a Professor in the university's Department of Geological and Atmospheric Science and in its Department of Agronomy. He is also a member of UCAR's Board of Trustees. (Photo courtesy Iowa State.)

The day was organized by the Climate Science Working Group, which is comprised of about a dozen scientific associations and consortia including UCAR, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Society, and American Geophysical Union.

This year, UCAR sponsored the participation of faculty members John Nielsen-Gammon from Texas A&M and Gene Takle from Iowa State University, as well as graduate student Anastasia Yanchilina from Columbia University.

Climate Science Day is an education and outreach activity that does not involve lobbying for research funding or particular policy issues. With climate as the theme, the focus was on the state of the science.

It was informative to see the need for dialogue with an important constituency…. I have a much better appreciation for the challenges staffers work under. A single staffer may be responsible for banking, climate change, water quality, and immigration issues with three weeks to prepare for all of them.

John Nielsen-Gammon
John Nielsen-Gammon, Regents Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, is also the Texas State Climatologist. (Photo courtesy Texas A&M.)

—Gene Takle

The day before the actual visits, participants were given a primer by former and current Congressional Committee staff on how Congress works and how to conduct a successful visit. The participants were then teamed up and hit the Hill in sturdy walking shoes the next day. Since a typical Hill meeting lasts about 20 minutes, succinctness was essential. Most of the participants met with junior and/or seasoned staffers, while others had the opportunity to meet with their member of Congress.

Some [Hill staffers] were enthusiastic from the start, but the others we managed to win over to some extent. There was the full range of prior knowledge, from one whom I could talk to on a detailed, technical level to another who wondered whether there were any sea level gauges along the Texas Gulf Coast. The challenge, I think, is trying to figure out at what level to be useful, and making sure that you come across as helpful and non-threatening.”

—John Nielsen-Gammon

Future Hill

Anastasia Yanchilina
Anastasia Yanchilina is a graduate student studying paleoclimate in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. She is an alumna of UCAR's SOARS internship program (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science). (Photo courtesy Anastasia Yanchilina.)

Each year, UCAR collaborates with other scientific organizations to provide a number of similar science-related events on Capitol Hill that inform policy makers about the important work our community is doing. The next event co-sponsored by UCAR is Science, Engineering and Technology Congressional Visits Day, which takes place March 25–26. Nearly 30 professional organizations participate in SET-CVD, whose website describes the activity this way:

Uniquely multisector and multidisciplinary, the CVD is coordinated by coalitions of companies, professional societies and educational institutions and it is open to all who believe that science and technology comprise the cornerstone of our Nation's future.

UCAR is sponsoring SET-CVD participation by two scientists this year: Wendy Abshire, Senior Project Manager at COMET and a newly elected councilor of the American Meteorological Society; and Michael Chapman, Project Manager for the Weather Systems and Assessment Program at NCAR’s Research Applications Laboratory.

If you are interested in participating in future activities, please contact Mike Henry in the UCAR Washington Office (mhenry@ucar.edu).

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