The 18 scientists wrote the governor and legislators Oct. 26, urging them to "consider separating the science from the policy issues." They challenged lawmakers for giving the "fringe" position of a climate skeptic equal weight to that of the broad, scientific consensus that climate change is happening, largely because of human activities.
"We have no specific political agenda to support but agree that whatever action is taken, it should be informed by the best available scientific evidence," the scientists said. "We encourage our legislators not to manipulate the scientific evidence to suit any political agenda."
The scientists sent the letter five days after the Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee heard from Roy Spencer, an Alabama climatologist who doubts human activities are largely responsible for climate change, and Jim Steenburgh, chairman and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah.
Summer Rupper, a BYU climate scientist, led the letter-writing effort. She said participants agreed it was "extremely important" as citizens and scientists to underscore that there is ample and solid evidence that humankind is driving the unusual increase in greenhouse gases that are affecting the complex climate systems and that the changes pose risks to people and the environment.
"We did not receive any acknowledgement that they received it," she said.
The co-signers said they agreed with the scientific consensus, but noted that their political views vary, as do their ideas about "how society ought to respond to threats posed by a warming climate." They noted that Utah scientists have for decades studied how climate change can be expected to impact the region.
Underscoring that their views are their own and are not intended to represent their university's position, the 18 Ph.D.'s specifically refuted Spencer's claim that his critics have ignored natural cycles. The BYU scientists called that assertion "patently false" in light of the fact that natural climate variability has been "extensively studied."
They also took issue with Spencer's allegation that researchers were simply "jumping on the climate-change bandwagon for prestige and monetary gain."
"When members of the Legislature give this kind of testimony too much weight, it puts all of us at risk by promoting poorly informed decisions," the letter said.
Geochemist Barry Bickmore, who also signed the letter, agreed the BYU scientists were concerned that the legislative discussion had been "unproductive" and "ideological." A Utah County Republican delegate, he noted that there were political disagreements among the scientists represented "but we all agree this is a problem, and we need to do something about it."
Calls Friday to several key members of the legislative committee, including Rep. Mike Noel, a Kanab Republican and the panel's co-chairman who invited Spencer to address the panel, were not returned.
Noel complained to Utah State University President Stan Albrecht last month that a physics instructor at that university had criticized Spencer's work and called his views on climate "fringe" -- the same phrase the letter writers used.
Because BYU is a private institution owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its faculty and staff are insulated from legislative pressures that public universities could be subject to.
Rep. Christopher Herrod, a Provo Republican and member of Noel's committee, doubted that all the scientists who signed the letter had actually listened to the panel's discussion. He said they misunderstood Spencer's science and misquoted Herrod as painting "the movement to address global warming as 'the new religion to replace Communism.' "
Those words aren't his, but come from Vaclav Klaus, the current president of the Czech Republic and a noted skeptic of human-caused climate change, Herrod noted. Meanwhile, the BYU scientists are allowing the science to be "used by the other side" for political purposes.
"The problem is the other side is already making policy that will cost trillions of dollars," Herrod said.
"The more they say there is consensus, the more they lose credibility," said Herrod, a real estate developer and entrepreneur who received a master's degree in organizational behavior from BYU.
"There is no consensus," he said. "Send us a study that addresses all the points that were made. [Without that] they are hurting their case."
This is a corrected version of a story that first was published Friday. The climate change skeptic referred to was Vaclav Klaus, current president of the Czech Republic. The Tribune originally misidentified this critic.
Read a PDF of the letter scientists sent to Utah lawmakers.
> www.sltrib.com/ utahpolitics/ci_13733043