Thirty-one of the largest U.S. science societies—collectively representing millions of scientists—sent a letter to Congress this week urging lawmakers to recognize anthropogenic climate change and take decisive action to combat it and its effects. “The letter continues the decades-long efforts of the scientific community to persuade Congress to act on the climate crisis,” says Sarah Green, a chemistry professor at Michigan Technological University who studies climate change and who is affiliated with of several of the societies that signed the letter.
A previous letter with nearly identical language was sent by 18 of the 31 organizations in 2009 (pdf), and some scientists are skeptical that this new document will budge the stubborn persistence of climate denial among congressional representatives. “I hate to sound like a wet blanket, but this is nice. It’s well-intentioned, but it won’t do anything,” says Jon Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences. “We’re being bad scientists—not in how we look at our climate data but in how we look at our communication data.” He says scientists are wrong to hope that simply explaining the science again will change the minds of politicians who have not listened before. But that does not mean he thinks scientists should give up. “The antidote to despair is to roll up your sleeves and find people who are listening,” Foley says. “Why do we think that Congress is the only way that things get done? Because it’s not.” He says the 31 organizations would do better to target their message to mayors, philanthropists, Silicon Valley billionaires and other people in power who have shown a willingness to engage with the evidence.