More on last week’s invite-only rising seas meeting

Alex Chadwick, BURN Host

After my last post on the Union of Concerned Scientists and the meeting in New York last week about sea level rise, I got a note back from UCS. I was very critical of their closing this meeting to the public and press. The meeting was attended by local officials from New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Emergency responders, natural resource managers – the people who are going to try to manage the climate changes that are beginning now, and which are certain to grow.

A press person at UCS wrote to say she was disappointed in the blog. Among the things she pointed out: I never said in my blog that UCS had a press conference in the middle of the day, and that they put up a panel of a half-dozen participants and took questions.

UCS is correct. I should have noted that. In fact, I was in New York, and went to the press conference, and found it very useful. I’m taking information and contacts from it for a story that I hope might break through a general numbness to climate reporting – I don’t think it gets the public attention it deserves.

It’s a transformative story in many ways, and the climatic changes are going to make for very difficult times. Those changes are directly tied to our energy use, but not something we take into account in the energy choices we make. Or not seriously. More open discussion of what is coming is better, I think.

So, I have disappointed the Union of Concerned Scientists, and they have disappointed me. We exchanged another series of notes today and agreed to go on talking.

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Why you can’t attend a rising seas conference in NY

Alex Chadwick, BURN Host

This week, in New York City, the Union of Concerned Scientists is convening a meeting of dozens of public officials from New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida to talk about one of the most serious issues these officials are facing: rising sea levels brought about by global warming, the product of greenhouse gases. Some of these officials dealt with Hurricane Sandy – the one that left parts of Manhattan without power for five days and battered the New Jersey coast. Others, especially in Florida, already see evidence of climate change – not from storms, but simply in the tides. The officials are meeting with one another for conversations, with a few scientists on hand to offer guidance.

They will be there – but the public will not. UCS, which describes itself as a coalition of citizens and scientists working to better public policy and corporate practices, has closed the meeting.

I learned of the event a month ago through one of the participants. I sent UCS a note asking to go, and dropped what I thought would be our best card with this group – we were just recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for best radio science reporting. I though of this as an opportunity to meet and listen to the people who are going to be creating the policies and practices that will be of ever greater significance in this country, as more and more lives and enormous swathes of property are at increasing risk.

The response from UCS was that it would be ‘unwieldy’ to allow reporters to observe. And no one from the public, either.

A citizen who might think s/he would like to know more about rising sea levels? No, not this time, they said. Unwieldy.

I’ve known the Union of Concerned Scientists to be public-minded advocates of science-based solutions to all sorts of issues. They’re tough-minded and fearless in their frequent papers and testimony. But when I protested the exclusion of reporters and others from this meeting, a UCS press person said that climate has become so controversial that they worried about hecklers, or trouble-makers – people who would show up for theatrical opposition.

If UCS is going to close a meeting because some nut-job – or even a true skeptic, though many believers doubt there is such a thing – might show up and try to disrupt things, then we are in worse shape than I thought. These are public officials, at a meeting convened by a science organization that boasts of its citizen involvement. And they want to talk just among themselves because an outsider might be argumentative – even disruptive?

A spokeswoman told me a week ago that they’d think about opening the meeting. She’d tested the idea on one official already, and the response was that UCS would be changing ‘the rules’, and thus the official might not attend. Wonderful. If UCS and public officials are doing such a great job getting out the climate message, where is the public consensus about the urgency of doing something?

UCS and public officials have done such a great job getting out the climate message that there is noted consensus about the urgency of doing something. So, okay, maybe we should just leave them alone in a room, talking to each other. But when they close the doors, I hope there’s a flicker of shame somewhere inside there.

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