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Scientist proves conservatism and belief in climate change aren't incompatible

MIT professor Kerry Emanuel is among a rare breed of conservative scientists who are sounding the alarm for climate change and criticizing Republicans' 'agenda of denial' and 'anti-science stance.'

January 05, 2011|By Neela Banerjee, Washington Bureau

He remembers thinking it ridiculous when a noted climatologist told Congress in 1988 that he was all but certain that the climate was changing. Yet, as analyses of climate data advanced through the 1990s and Emanuel found a relationship between hurricanes and climate change in his own work, he came to see a link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Climate change deniers, including many in Congress, contend that because the science is not "settled," the government should not act to curtail greenhouse gases.

"Scientists are being asked to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there is an imminent danger before we as a society do anything," Emanuel said. "The parallel to that is saying, 'You won't buy property insurance unless I can prove to you that your house will catch on fire right now.' "

Although more scientists are pushing back against climate change denial, Emanuel is not convinced it can help, given the corporate interests and the weight of the GOP arrayed against them. All of this is making him reconsider his political loyalties: For the first time in his life, he voted for a Democrat, Barack Obama, in 2008.

"I am a rare example of a Republican scientist, but I am seriously thinking about changing affiliation owing to the Republicans' increasingly anti-science stance," he wrote in an e-mail. "The best way to elevate the number of Republican scientists is to get Republican politicians to stop beating up on science and scientists."

neela.banerjee@latimes.com

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