APS News

Council Passes Addendum to Climate Change Statement

In a process that began more than a year ago, APS Council has passed an addendum to the 2007 climate change statement. The vote on the addendum at the April 18 Council meeting was 31 in favor, 2 opposed, and one abstention. This document, which runs more than 800 words, is now an official appendage to the 157-word statement, and appears as such in the Policy and Advocacy section of the APS website.
Gray arrow  Policy and Advocacy: APS Statements

The addendum was crafted as a commentary on the 2007 statement by a subcommittee of the Panel on Public Affairs (POPA). The final wording of the Commentary involved input not only from the subcommittee, but also from POPA itself and from the broad APS membership. Prior to consideration by Council, the Commentary had also been given unanimous approval by the APS Executive Board.

The subcommittee was chaired by Duncan Moore of the University of Rochester. Other members were John Browne, James Drake, and Frances Houle. Moore had been Chair of POPA in 2009.

The reason for the addendum is stated in its first paragraph: “There is a substantial body of peer reviewed scientific research to support the technical aspects of the 2007 APS statement. The purpose of the following commentary is to provide clarification and additional details.”

Among other things, the Commentary addresses the use of the word “incontrovertible” in the original statement: “The evidence for global temperature rise over the last century is compelling. However, the word ‘incontrovertible’ in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the 2007 APS statement is rarely used in science because by its very nature science questions prevailing ideas. The observational data indicate a global surface warming of 0.74 °C (+/- 0.18 °C) since the late 19th century.
Gray arrow  Source: NOAA Global Warming Frequently Asked Questions.

The last paragraph of the addendum contains a suggestion for further involvement by the physics community: “With regard to the last sentence of the APS statement, the role of physicists is not just ‘...to support policies and actions...’ but also to participate actively in the research itself. Physicists can contribute in significant ways to understanding the physical processes underlying climate and to developing technological options for addressing and mitigating climate change.” The full text of the addendum, and of the 2007 statement, is available on the APS website.
Gray arrow  2007 Climate Change Statement

Last fall, an ad hoc committee, appointed by then-President Cherry Murray and chaired by Daniel Kleppner of MIT, recommended that the 2007 statement be returned to POPA to address issues of “clarity and tone.” Council adopted the recommendations of the Kleppner committee, and asked POPA to appoint a subcommittee to accomplish this goal, and also both to consult outside experts and to solicit input from the entire APS membership. The Moore subcommittee conducted a series of teleconferences with a number of climate scientists in January. By late January, they had a draft commentary which they presented to POPA. With some modifications, POPA approved the Commentary on February 5. This was then brought to the APS Executive Board, which approved it at its meeting on February 12.

There followed a period in which the logistical and technical details of requesting input from the APS membership were worked out. On February 23, a message from APS President Curtis Callan went out to all 46,034 APS members who could be reached by email; each message contained a unique URL that enabled the member to access the text of the statement and proposed Commentary, and, if desired, to provide input. The system was designed so that each member could comment only once during the 3-week period that the site was open.

Of those who received the email, 5805 viewed the material, and 1767 submitted comments by the March 19 deadline. Each of the 1767 messages was read by at least one member of the Moore subcommittee. The subcommittee members categorized each comment as either favorable to the addendum, or unfavorable, or neutral. They found that 55% of the comments were in the favorable category, and 26% were unfavorable. As several Council members pointed out during the discussion on April 18, it is probable that these percentages are not representative of the APS membership as a whole.

In addition, the subcommittee collected those comments that they deemed potentially useful in modifying the addendum, and used them to produce a revised version. This version, which contained substantial differences from the original, was presented to POPA and approved by that body on April 2. It was this version that was forwarded to the APS Board and Council, and approved by the latter on April 18.

This entire sequence of events began at the Council meeting last spring, when Councilor Robert Austin introduced a motion to replace the 2007 climate change statement. Austin’s motion was tabled, and Murray appointed the Kleppner committee to advise her on how to proceed. In the run-up to the Council meeting in the fall of 2009, Council members were bombarded with email messages from the APS membership, expressing their opinions of the 2007 statement and the Austin motion. Council then adopted the recommendations of the Kleppner committee, which led to the formation of the Moore subcommittee and the subsequent developments culminating in the approval of the addendum.