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Environment and Energy

How organizer of NAS Climate Change letter feels about 'alarmist' branding

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NASA
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The letter warns that the consequences of opting out of the Paris agreement would be severe and long-lasting for Earth’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.";

On Septemer 20, 2016, 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences signed an open letter designed to draw attention to the risks of climate change as we head into the November presidential election.

The letter specifically warns of the consequences of opting out of the Paris climate agreement, something the Trump campaign has indicated as a possibility.

At least one conservative media outlet, The Daily Caller, labeled the letter “alarmist” and an outright endorsement of Hillary Clinton, while more liberal outlets are praising the move.

Signers of the letter include physicist Stephen Hawking and 30 Nobel Laureates. It was organized by four scientists, one of whom calls the Central Coast home.

Astrophysicist Ray Weymann of Atascadero joined KCBX's Randol White via cell phone from Tucson, Arizona where he had just toured a facility that produces solar power.

NOTE: This transcript is from an interview that was edited for time purposes.

Randol White: As you were organizing this letter were there members of the National Academy of Sciences who decided they did not want to sign onto the letter? And did they explain why?

Ray Weymann: Yes. As a matter of fact there were a few. But here's the interesting point. Not a single one of the people who declined to sign said, 'Oh I don't agree with your science.' Some of them said, 'my institution doesn't allow me to do this.' Some said, 'I didn't like it when you said word X instead of word Y.' But again I emphasize not a single one of all the ones that we contacted took issue with the basic assertion that humans are changing the climate and that the results are going to be increasingly harmful.

White: How do you feel about the label of alarmist and that the letter is being characterized as an endorsement.

Weymann: Well the letter is about policy. Now I would say Paul Revere was an alarmist, and we're grateful for it. I would say the scientists who warned us about smoking sounded an alarm and we're grateful that they did so. And I think we're sounding an alarm about a policy issue that really needs to be address and be understood. We're arguing for a policy not a candidate one way or another. I think the next step now is to make people understand that we can switch to low emitting energy sources and do it economically and in fact that's what I was doing here in Tucson, visiting a new way of producing solar energy which I think is very promising.

White: The letter makes the point that the international credibility of the United States is at stake with the Paris agreement. Can you talk a bit about that assertion?

Weymann: Well, yes, I think the U.S. is certainly the most influential country in the world. I don't think there's any question about that. And there are people around the world who say, look we are looking for the United States to be a leader in this. And if we pull back now and turn our backs on this problem, I think the U.S. really will lose a lot of its credibility in the international community.

White: Do you feel in the end that this letter will have much sway with voters come Election Day in November.

Weymann: Well, we'll find that out come election day. Again, I hope people realize that this really is a real problem. I realize it's a long term one and we're not going to solve this problem by denying that it exists. So we've got to recognize it and we've got to find ways of the private and public sector investing enough so that we can produce at scale the energy sources that we know we'll need for the next 30, 40, 50 years.

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