February 10, 2014
Written by Eric Davidson, Ph.D., Woods Hole Research Center
Residing in a state that is about as blue as they come, I had reservations that participating in AGU’s Climate Science Day to visit offices of my Massachusetts congressional delegation would involve little more than preaching to the choir. Although that was mostly true, the staffers we met did sincerely seem to appreciate the visit. Still more rewarding for me, I was paired with a New Hampshire scientist and got to tag along on his visits to a mixed delegation. Well, it is mixed in terms of political parties, but, curiously, all four of NH’s senators and representatives are women. What’s that got to do with climate change science? I won’t pretend that I’m a social scientist who analyzes gender influences on policy views or tactics. However, we visit our elected representatives not only as scientists, but also as citizens, and we citizens are entitled to our subjective views on all topics. So, as a citizen, I’m going to suggest that there is something special about the largely female New England congressional delegation, which may provide a refreshing ray of hope for movement on legislation related to climate change.
The 2013 AGU fall meeting attendees may recall the inspiring plenary presentation by recently retired Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine. She clearly “gets it” when it comes to the science of climate change. Sadly, she explained that she became so frustrated about political stalemate and dysfunction in Washington on this and just about every other issue, that she felt she could be more effective outside of Congress. Fortunately, Senators Kelly Ayotte, Jeanne Shaheen, Elizabeth Warren, and Susan Collins continue Snowe’s example of strong female leadership from New England, covering the political right, left, and middle. I was pleased to listen to Senator Ayotte’s legislative aide, who explained to us how she is keenly concerned about the health of New Hampshire’s forests and waterways and how important they are for the state’s economy. We discussed effects of climate change on forestry, fisheries, and tourism and the increasing risks that the combination of sea level rise and storm surges pose to coastal communities. Senator Ayotte’s aide valued our science, our message, and our visit. My New Hampshire colleague and I should return and keep building a dialog. In the meantime, Representative Ann Kuster told us that she would reach out to her Republican and Democrat colleagues in the region to attempt to find common ground on this topic.
Garrison Keillor boasts that his Minnesota women are strong (and the men good-looking), and I would assert that New England’s women in Congress are strong, savvy, and sensible (and maybe we New England men aren’t bad looking either – at least Tom Brady is pretty cute!). My speculation isn’t at all scientific, but I would guess that we would have much less political posturing and more traction on dealing with climate change across the political spectrum if a larger fraction of our congressional delegation were female. As two good-looking AGU scientists who happened to be male, I believe that my New Hampshire colleague and I modestly contributed a worthwhile effort to demonstrate that we stand behind our political leaders, ready and willing to provide them with the latest good science. I am hopeful that the New England women of Congress may lead the charge for bipartisan support for science and for sensible climate change mitigation that rises above political ideology.