Dear Congress: Climate skepticism has no place in the Department of Energy

View of the Mississippi River from the Great River Road. October 2016

February 15th, 2017

Dear Senator _____,

We are deeply troubled by the nomination of Mr. Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas, to the position of Secretary of the Department of Energy. Mr. Perry’s recent reversals on two long-standing opinions regarding the importance of climate policy and the mere existence of the Department of Energy, respectively, are cause for great concern.

At minimum, we expect the individual in charge of leading our nation’s efforts in improving the security, independence, efficiency, and sustainability of our energy sector to understand the key role the Department of Energy plays in supporting these initiatives. During Mr. Perry’s presidential bid, he vowed to eliminate the Department of Energy. We find it impossible to believe that someone who has previously vouched for abolishing a federal department would be an effective leader of that department at some later date, regardless of any recent reversals on that position.

We are also concerned about Mr. Perry’s position on climate change. We find it unacceptable that one of our nation’s top officials would so casually dismiss climate change research conducted by some of the world’s most prominent scientists and ignore their call to action.

Climate change is not an “alternative fact.” The clear majority of scientists agree that climate change is real, it is happening now, and it is driven by human activity (1). As the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase due to the combustion of fossil fuels, both the atmosphere and ocean are warming, snow accumulation is diminishing, ice sheets are melting at an unprecedented rate, and sea levels are rising. This has profound effects on our daily meteorology in Wisconsin (2), with an increased potential for deadly summer heat waves and winter snow storms that have been linked to human fatalities. Our infrastructure is at risk of flooding due to increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and animal- and water-borne diseases (e.g. West Nile Virus) are more likely to thrive as temperatures rise. Communities around the world are already experiencing the effects of climate change (3), including coastal towns in the United States, and without international efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate and adapt to climate change, economies will collapse and people will die. If Mr. Perry is not a strong voice in favor of climate policy, he is totally unqualified to lead the Department of Energy.

Finally, Mr. Perry’s lack of understanding of what the Department of Energy actually does imperils the research endeavors of hundreds of scientists who are working to develop solutions to meet our goals of energy independence, efficiency, and sustainability. Researchers funded by the Department of Energy work tirelessly to discover ways to increase the energy efficiency of power plants and consumer factories, dispose of nuclear waste, and consider how to best add renewable energy alternatives to the grid to round out the U.S. energy portfolio and reduce fossil fuel consumption. With Mr. Perry at the helm, a man with no training in science whatsoever, it is likely that many of these research efforts would falter, to the detriment of the American people.

We urge you to vote no on Mr. Perry’s nomination to the position of Secretary of the Department of Energy. We cannot afford to have someone who doubts the motives, integrity, and function of this crucial department in charge of developing and implementing our nation’s energy policy.

Sincerely,

Olivia Sanderfoot, B.S.*+

Graduate Researcher, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

University of Wisconsin­ — Madison

Madison, WI

Alexandra Karambelas, Ph.D.*+

Research Scientist, The Earth Institute

Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY

*alumni of the University of Wisconsin — Madison

+long-time residents of the Midwest (>20 years)

References:

1. http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

2. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/WISCONSIN_NCA_2014.pdf

3. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/climate-change-already-causing-mass-human-migration-180949530/

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