Susan Solomon (Apparently Does Not) Enters Political Fray Over Coal

April 30th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

[UPDATE: Based on the below acknowledgment of a mistake by the Sierra Club and a request from Susan Solomon I have changed the title of this post.

From Todd Sanford

I am writing this as an Executive Committee member of the Sierra Club Indian Peaks Group to correct errors in an earlier post on Prometheus regarding Susan Solomon's involvement with a Sierra Club sponsored event. Dr. Solomon was asked and agreed to give a public lecture on the science of climate change only with no further agenda items for the event. However, due to poor communication on the part of the Club additions were made to the event including mention of their Beyond Coal campaign which was subsequently sent out as an email announcement. This was done without informing Dr. Solomon. The local Sierra Club group sponsor has now removed the Beyond Coal campaign portion from the event. ]

I was surprised to receive the email copied below. In it the Sierra Club announces an evening with Susan Solomon — a colleague of mine here at CIRES, widely respected scientist and chair of IPCC Working Group I for the AR4 — as part of their “Beyond Coal” campaign.

You are invited…

Global Science: Local Action
A presentation by Susan Solomon and Will Toor

Click here to RSVP to this very special event and experience not to be missed.

Join us for a special evening with Nobel Peace Prize
winner and climate scientist, Dr. Susan Solomon.

More information on our presenters:

Dr. Solomon first drew international attention when she published her research on the ozone hole in our atmosphere; she helped identify the “smoking gun” connecting CFCs to the growing hole. She co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2008, Time magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and in 2007 Dr. Solomon and the IPCC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore, for their efforts to awaken the world to the risks of climate change.

Because the Sierra Club is about solutions as much as it is about causes, we’ve also asked Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor to speak. Commissioner Toor most recently helped pass Boulder County‚Äôs ClimateSmart Loan Program, which helps home and business owners to get loans for energy-efficient additions to their properties. Toor will discuss this and other actions attendees can take so they can be part of the Cool Cities solution to global warming.

Sierra Club staff will also discuss specifics about our Beyond Coal campaign, including plans for the conversion of the nearby Valmont coal plant into a cleaner energy source for Boulder and how you can become involved in the campaign.

This is going to be a very special event and an experience not to be missed.

See you there,

Roger Singer
Sierra Club

P.S. Please forward this email invitation to your friends!

Susan has studiously avoided such open advocacy in the past, so her decision to associate with the Sierra Club’s campaign is notable. The only question is whether her advocacy is to be overt or stealth. I wrote about this dynamic a few years ago in a different context:

. . . from the perspective of the individual scientist deciding to align with an interest group, it should be recognized that such a decision is political. There is of course nothing wrong with politics, it is how we get done the business of society, and organized interest groups are fundamental to modern democracy. Nonetheless, an observer of this dynamic might be forgiven for thinking when they see scientists self-select and organize themselves according to political predispositions that different perspectives on scientific issues are simply a function of political ideologies. We can see how contentious political debates involving science become when filtering science through interest groups is the dominant mechanism for connecting science to policy.

I hope that Susan does more such advocacy. It is good that political views are in the open, rather than hidden behind science. At the same time, we still need honest brokers:

It is this condition of dueling special interest scientists that leads to a second perspective, and that is an institutional approach to providing science advice in a way that is not filtered through a particular special interest agenda. It is this very condition that gives legitimacy to government science advisory panels, National Academy committees, and professional societies. But the role such groups as honest brokers is in my view endangered.

3 Responses to “Susan Solomon (Apparently Does Not) Enters Political Fray Over Coal”

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  1. jae Says:

    Bite tongue again. Ouch.

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  3. Paul Biggs Says:

    Beyond coal? I guess that means sitting shivering in the dark? Nobel Peace Prize? Nobel Prize for Physics anyone?

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  5. stan Says:

    Advocating that the world’s poor be locked in poverty is the essence of peace.