Climate petitions and open letters
I've been collecting details on some of the many petition drives and
open letters issued over the past several years related to climate change.
I've divided these into two categories: the scientific case for action,
and broader calls from the general public.
The scientific case for action Is there strong evidence that
human activity is changing the composition of the atmosphere? How strong
is the greenhouse effect from CO2, methane, and other human-generated
GHGs? How much higher would CO2 levels rise under "business as usual?"
How much would temperatures be likely to rise in that case? How far will
we need to cut emissions and concentrations to keep temperature increases
to a specific level?
These are scientific questions, where public opinion ought to defer to
the expertise of those who spend their lives researching these questions.
We can ask for an explanation in layman's terms, and inquire whether
the scientists are confident in the results, how widely accepted
the conclusions are, and what issues are still up for debate,
but we can't ask to vote on whether CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
On these issues, the scientific literature gets the final say.
Since this is a vast subject, we do need it to be 'boiled down'
to some yes-or-no conclusions for the public and political leaders to use.
That has been the mandate of the IPCC in their Assessment Reports.
These reports have then been reviewed and endorsed by major associations
of scientists including many national academies of science.
The U.S. National Academies of Science further conducted its own
Surveys of Scientists
There have also been a number of attempts to poll climate scientists
for a very brief and simple take on their views; the results have been
highly variable, with issues around choice and wording of questions,
as well as selection of participants.
- Bray & von Storch 1996, 2003 and 2008;
also a 2007 profile and discussion with von Storch on nature.com's
- New: Jan.2009 Paper in EOS 90:3 (20 Jan 09) by climate researcher
Peter Doran at UIC and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman surveyed over 3,000 AGU members:
Doran & Kendall Zimmerman, EOS Vol. 90 no. 3, 20 Jan.2009
Full research report in book and e-book form (only $2 for the 141pp. e-book; I paid!);
Write-up at ScienceBlog
Write-up and discussion at Deltoid
- Apart from contacting scientists, there have been attempts to
gauge the degree of consensus on acceptance of human impact on
climate change in the scientific literature, notably that by
Naomi Oereskes in 2004, which is cited by Al Gore in his film.
Another was by Benny Peiser in 2005.
See also Peter Norvig's review
of Oereskes' and Peiser's results.
- The mail-in card campaign by the "Oregon Institute" is included
below under "public petitions" (for lack of any data given on the
academic affiliation or scientific credentials of the large list
of posted names.)
Open Letters from Scientists
As for calls to action (or otherwise) in response to the science, we have
a number of open letters written and endorsed by scientists themselves.
These should be judged on the relevant expertise of the signers.
I have more information on a large number of individual scholars,
their academic affiliation, and their publication record in my pages on
climate scientists. I've been adding notes on who signed which of
these open letters in the 'notes' column of my tables. Some of the
major open letters from scientists:
- Monaco09 The Monaco Declaration on Ocean Acidification signed by 155 oceanographers and marine biologists; this highlights that as excess CO2 dissolves into the world's oceans, the chemical balance of seawater changes; falling pH poses a threat to many marine organisms. This effect is separate from greenhouse warming (which itself also impacts on sea life.)
- UCS08 A May, 2008 open letter put together by the
Union of Concerned Scientists
endorsed by over 1700 American scientists and economists.
It calls for prompt action to cut greenhouse gas emissions:
U.S. Scientists and Economists' Call for Swift and Deep Cuts in Greenhouse Gas Emissions The PDF file of the statement
lists the name, degree and institutional affiliation of each signatory. [I have extracted the list of names and affiliations, but have not yet incorporated most of these into the tables of climate scientists links and citation stats. Some 150 signers are noted among the list I've already compiled (August 2009).]
- Bali212 The
2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists on the occasion of the
December, 2007 climate talks in Bali, signed by 212 climate scientists. All these names have been added in my list.
- SCS03An earlier letter entitled The State of Climate Science: October 2003 was signed by 990 American scientists. I have extracted the list of names and affiliations, and of these, I've noted the over 50 already in my stats with SCS03 in the "notes" column. This letter re-affirmed the conclusions of IPCC 3rd Assessment Report from 2001:
"In summary, the main conclusions of the IPCC and NRC reports remain robust consensus positions supported by the vast majority of researchers in the fields of climate change and its impacts. The body of research carried out since the reports were issued tends to strengthen their conclusions."
- There was also a similar letter sent July 29, 2003 with 745 names,
but the original with the list of signatories seems to have been dropped
from the site where it had been posted previously.
I've been unable to source that earlier list. Given the similarity of the two documents, it seems safe to assume the October document simply built on the July version and gathered added names, so I'm content to rest with the October list.
The text of the July letter and brief context are online at:
The State Of Climate Science: July 2003: A Letter from U.S. Scientists
I did find that the letter was read into the congressional record by
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during hearings:
THOMAS transcripts, S13507-8 The transcript shows that McCain attempted
to convey objections by several top climate scientists against
how their work was misquoted or mischaracterized by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)
June 2008 open letter
from 130 Canadian climate scientists
to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging action on GHG reduction.
The letter was released in connection with the meeting of the
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society. See also this
CBC News interview with Dr. Gordon McBean when the 2008 letter was released.
- CMOS06: a similar April 2006 letter, evidently drafted in response to the "CA06" skeptics' letter earlier that same month (see below).
Letters from 'Skeptics'
Those who question the entire scientific basis for any call to cut greenhouse
emissions have also been active in writing and endorsing open letters
and declarations. I've located the following of these, and added notations
of who signed which of these in the notes column of my tables, using
the abbreviated tag shown in bold by each item:
- UN07 -
An open letter
dated Dec. 13, 2007 to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon (copied to heads of state of signatories' home countries) on similar lines to the CA06 letter. The letter lists 100 signatories, with about half in common with the CA06 letter.
- MHND - The Manhattan Declaration on climate.
Issued in March 2008, it arose out of a conference of climate
change "skeptics" in New York. The site lists
links to four lists of signatories:
the 114 attendees, 197 endorses with science degrees, as well as some
465 members of the general public (helpfully, listed separately - for once!)
Most helpfully, the site provides a separate list on
giving both attendees and subsequent endorsers whom the list
maintainer deems to have credentials in a climate-related discipline.
There are 197 names on that list; 121 have PhDs.
There are a high proportion of "former", "retired", or "emeritus";
I found just under 40 current university professors.
Of these, I've noted some 16 already in my list with the tag "MHND"
under "notes". It remains for me to
work through the other names to find websites and citation stats.
- Three open letters to the Canadian Prime Minister, from climate 'skeptics':
How to respond There is plenty to debate here:
whether GHG cuts should be rapid or gradual,
whether to use carbon taxes or cap-and-trade, which countries should
bear what share of the burden, what types of technologies and strategies
should be pursued, etc.
Here, engineers, economists and social scientists
have some bearing as expert sources; but in the end these policy choices
need to win consent from the general public. Everyone can and
should have a say in these discussions, through the electoral process,
via community groups and NGOs, in online discussions, petitions, etc.
On economics, one recent statement from
152 global institutional investors
with over $9 trillion in assets was delivered at the Poznan climate
talks in Dec. 2008. The statement was issued by:
- The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC),
- the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) and
- the Investor Group on Climate Change/ Australia and New Zealand (IGCC Australia/New Zealand).
"Clear, credible long-term policy signals are critical for investors to integrate climate change considerations
into their decision-making processes and to support investment flows into a low-carbon economy and into measures for adaptation. A timely post-2012 climate change agreement involving all countries and containing appropriate long- and medium-term emission reduction targets is essential to supporting investor confidence.
The global agreement must facilitate and encourage strong national action plans in order for us to help meet
the climate challenge."
There have been several major petitions calling for action on cutting
greenhouse gas emissions.
Those are by far the largest petitions. Other petition drives have
reached into five figures, including:
- The largest campaign, at over 4.5 million supporters (Aug. 2009) is Boone Pickens' Pickens Plan 'Virtual March on Washington'. The number of endorsers of the Pickens Plan has grown rapidly throughout 2009, nearly doubling in nine months; the campaign is clearly benefitting from the extensive national TV ad campaign by Boone Pickens.
This plan is couched in terms of U.S. energy independence rather than primarily
aiming to address climate change, though it bears on both:
"Our dependence on foreign oil forms the intersection of the three most critical issues America currently faces: the economy, the environment and our national security" The success of this campaign is one
indication of broad support for new sources of alternative energy --
one key component of any move away from fossil fuels, dovetailing with
the requirements of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. (Pickens calls
for a shift to large-scale wind power for electricity, freeing up domestic
natural gas for transportation to cut oil imports. While this exact
strategy is debatable, the aim of starting a large shift to renewable
energy is timely.)
The plan has been publicly endorsed by eleven U.S. Senators (including James Inhofe, R-OK) and 58 members of Congress (including Joe Barton, R-TX),
so signers are clearly not limited to climate change activists.
- The largest petition I've found specific to climate change alone is 2.6 million names (Aug. 2009) on a joint action by ten groups,
to world leaders at the 2007 Bali climate summit. Groups involved
were Avaaz.org, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Moveon.org, Getup.org, 1Sky, Stop Climate Chaos, Live Earth, I Count and the Alliance for Climate Protection.
- The next largest I've found is an ongoing sign-up with
The We Campaign which has
over two million supporters (2.35 M, Aug. 2009).
This is being organized by the Alliance for Climate Protection, founded by Al Gore.
- The next largest climate petition I've found, at over 500,000
signatures, was the
Sept. 2007 petition to APEC leaders.
The Environmental News Network, GetUp and Avaaz organized this
petition drive on the occasion of the APEC summit in Sydney, where
climate change was on the agenda. The petition stated:
"I want our governments to take sweeping action to dramatically cut greenhouse pollution, shift to clean energy and solve the climate crisis now."
This online petition
by Repower America (Jan-Mar 2009)
finished with 69,950 signatures, stating:
"We need to Repower America with 100% clean electricity within ten years. Doing so will mean millions of American jobs, stable energy prices, and freedom from dirty fossil fuels and global warming pollution. Repower America and end our addiction to foreign oil and dirty coal. Americans are calling for bold change."
- The Earth Day Network petition delivered to Congress in October 2007 reached 35,000 signatures.
- The Oregon Petition, urging
the U.S. to reject the Kyoto accord "and other similar proposals."
This campaign was launched in 1998 by climate 'skeptic' Frederick Seitz by
mail-in card, and claims "over 31,000 American scientists."
This claim has been challenged by critics of Seitz such as
Tim Lambert and
The OISM website does list names of signers, many with degree letters
(MD, PhD) but no further information such as area of expertise or
Spot checks on selected names have yielded a very low proportion who
have published anything in the peer-reviewed science journals on a topic
bearing on climate change. So I've listed this as a public petition
rather than under the first category of statements from climate