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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: House Committee on Science
New Directions for Climate Research & Technology Initiatives

April 17, 2002

The Science Committee held a hearing examining whether and how to change the focus of the federal government's climate research and technology programs. Specifically, the hearing addressed whether research programs should be more focused on targeted, shorter-term climate questions that could help regional resource managers (such as irrigation authorities or public health agencies, who make decisions that are affected by climate) and whether the technology programs could result in greater changes in the marketplace.

The consensus of the witnesses was that climate change research must involve decision makers and address regional concerns, in addition to generating long-term climate change forecasting and expanding scientific knowledge. Both problem-directed interdisciplinary research and discipline-focused research are needed to understand climate and its effects.

When questioned by Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) about their "top priority" for climate change research and technology, Radford Byerly, Jr. from the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder responded, "connecting with users while planning research." Eric J. Barron, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University agreed, and also stressed an "integrated focus" that will produce knowledge to protect life, property, and an expanded economy, while allowing the US to be good environmental stewards. Edward L. Miles of Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington discussed the importance of a regional focus, saying, "The crucial questions change by location, ecosystems, human ecology, level of economic development, and specific activity." In addition, technology needs to be deployed and information disseminated on a regional basis. In order to decrease energy consumption and improve efficiency, Scott Bernstein, President of the Center for Neighborhood Technology suggested shifting "the publicly available data on energy use in communities from large administrative areas (states) to small areas that relate to how people see their own lives and how utilities actually manage energy delivery (communities, neighborhoods, substations and feeders)." He concluded, citizens need good and timely information on energy consumption and costs to have a rational basis for changing their behavior.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-MD) commented, "The consensus of this panel and the vast majority of the scientific community is that climate change is real and it is demonstrably human-caused. Therefore, we have an obligation to future generations to do all we can to understand the global climate and invest heavily in technologies that don't destroy it."

Subcommittee on Research Chairman Nick Smith stated, "In a debate that can often become emotional and heated, it is worthwhile for both sides to begin where at least some agreement lies - which is that we need to learn more about the Earth's climate. We need to find ways to allow sound science to drive our policy decisions. Indeed, there are risks involved with not taking steps to address global climate change, but there is also significant risk associated with taking the wrong steps."