Scientists Criticize House Vote to Bar Climate Panel Funds

Last night the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to cut off funding for the rest of 2011 for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “My constituents should not have to continue to foot the bill for an organization to keep producing corrupt findings that can be used as justification to impose a massive new energy tax on every American,” said Representative Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-MO), the sponsor of the measure, in floor debate before the vote. Leutkemeyer said in a press release that his amendment, which passed 244 to 179 largely along partisan lines, represented “a victory for taxpayers.”

Asked about the vote, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco said she disagreed with the House’s action. “Science should not be partisan. It is highly unfortunate that in many cases it is,” she said. The spending measure, which would fund the government for the rest of 2011, now goes to the Senate, which disagrees with many portions of the bill.

“It’s a real tragedy that the issue is so poorly understood that it doesn’t have the support I think it deserves given how important it is,” says Stanford ecologist Chris Field, the lead author on one of three IPCC working groups. The House doesn't "like the message so they are killing the messenger," says climate scientist Mike MacCracken, former director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Leutkemeyer said that the federal government spends $13 million on the IPCC each year, citing federal budget documents. But Field said that 2009 funding for the IPCC was about $3 million. About half of that total was spent on the IPCC Trust Fund, which supports the international coordinating team, he said. The other half is spent on supporting U.S. scientists’ travel to meetings to put the report together, as well as funding for a small team of staff that works for Field.

Without the federal support, he said, “We’d have no ability to organize meetings, we’d have no ability to coordinate chapters,” he said. “He said the meetings allow U.S. scientists, who volunteer their time, to combine their knowledge with the work of colleagues around the world. “A small amount of funding goes a long way,” he said.

Field said that climate scientists need to do a better job of explaining the value of their work. “The IPCC didn’t understand that part of its mandate was explaining to people why its information is useful. I hope it can do a better job in the future,” he said.

Climate skeptic Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, says that scientists have lost touch with the public because their message is flawed, writing:

Is it any wonder that scientists have such a bad reputation among the taxpayers who pay them to play in their ivory tower sandboxes? They can make gloom and doom predictions all day long of events far in the future without ever having to suffer any consequences of being wrong.