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WHITE HOUSE: CLIMATE SCIENCE REVIEW PANEL TAKING (BAD) SHAPE?! – TO BE LED BY FORMER AMBASSADOR who ‘doesn’t have a history of speaking about climate change’

  • Scientific American , E&E News

A controversial plan by the White House to review the connections between climate change and national security might be led by a former official with the Department of Energy who oversaw talks about nuclear weapons tests with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Former Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, who served as chief negotiator for the Geneva nuclear testing talks from 1988 to 1990, is favored to lead the review panel, according to two sources involved in the talks. Robinson also directed DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories from 1995 to 2005 and was head of the nuclear weapons and national security programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Robinson has been quietly recruiting researchers outside the government to participate in the review panel, the sources said. He has been working with Steven Koonin, a New York University professor and former undersecretary for science at DOE during the Obama administration, to find participants.

C. Paul Robinson. Photo credit: Sandia National Laboratories
C. Paul Robinson. Sandia National Laboratories

They have focused their recruitment efforts on a small number of climate skeptics with academic credentials, including Judith Curry, a former professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Richard Lindzen, a retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who has called those worried about global warming a “cult”; and John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and a newly installed member of EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

Robinson’s involvement is notable because he doesn’t have a history of speaking about climate change, unlike other potential members of the panel. He earned a Ph.D. in physics from Florida State University and has spent much of his career specializing in nuclear weapons and national security.

Robinson was among dozens of signatories on a letter to President Trump in September 2017 encouraging him to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal signed by President Obama. The letter compared the benefits of exiting the Iran deal, which Trump ultimately decided to do, to the president’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

“We are unconvinced by doom-and-gloom predictions of the consequences of a U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA,” the signatories wrote, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “The sky did not fall when you withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.”

The White House plan to review climate science resembles an earlier effort by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to conduct a “red-team, blue-team” review of climate science to highlight uncertainties in research methodology. Koonin and Will Happer, a member of the White House National Security Council who’s spearheading this review, were a driving force behind Pruitt’s plan.

Initial plans for the latest climate review included an effort to involve the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, but that appears to have been scuttled, according to one source involved in the discussions. Robinson sits on the executive committee of the governing board for the National Academies.

Another option that has been considered is to ask federal researchers to conduct the review, which would allow the panel to avoid federal disclosure laws. Last month, a group of prominent climate skeptics, energy industry officials and Trump allies wrote a letter to the president urging him to use outside researchers for the review.

“Insofar as an internal working group would consist of federal career scientists reviewing their own work, we think this alternative would be worse than doing nothing,” they wrote.

So far, the effort to recruit reviewers does not appear to include the nation’s top climate researchers at NASA or NOAA. The head of each organization told E&E News that they are not involved in the process. Neil Jacobs, the acting NOAA administrator, said the panel should stick to peer-reviewed research. And he defended the National Climate Assessment, one of the overarching pieces of research that would be reviewed by the White House.

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